Date of Award

Winter 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Civil & Environmental Engineering

Committee Director

Sandeep Kumar

Committee Member

Ben Stuart

Committee Member

Mujde Erten-Unal

Committee Member

Xiaoyu Zhang


Pyrolysis is one of the traditional lignin and biomass utilization methods. The liquid products bio-oil and solid products bio-char are the main value-added products from lignin pyrolysis. Due to the narrow application and low quality, using the pyrolysis method to produce bio-oil and bio-char cannot bring sufficient economic benefits. In this dissertation, two methods were investigated to improve the quality of lignin bio-products.

Instead of direct pyrolysis, chemical activation (pyrolysis) was introduced in this dissertation. Compared to bio-char, the lignin chemical activation product lignin-activated-carbon has better economic value. With the best activation conditions, the lignin-activated-carbon produced a surface area of around 1117 m2/g, and the yield percentage could reach around 50%. Compared to commercial activated carbon, lignin-activated-carbon had a similar Iodine Number., Methylene Blue Number, BET Surface area, and better yield percentage. The use of ZnCl2 activated for the carbon method proved to be one of the best ways of utilizing lignin biomass residue.

Bio-oil produced from lignin is a very complex mixture of several organic compounds. However, furfural and acetone are two significant compounds present in bio-oil produced from lignin. An electrochemical hydrogenation method was investigated to upgrade oil and obtain more valuable products, such as isopropanol, Tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol, and 2- Methyltetrahydrofuran. A novel electrochemical hydrogenation reactor, polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell was used in the experiment and results show that target products could be produced in a mild process condition (low temperature and atmospheric pressure) with high current efficiency and high selectivity. The degradation of membranes due to the contamination of the polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell, the mitigation methods and the effective working hours of the polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell were investigated.


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