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Posted: March 3, 2008
Biomass can yield new chemicals, materials
(Nanowerk News) Biomass will be increasingly important in replacing a portion of petroleum as a feedstock for fuel and chemicals, a lecturer at South Dakota State University says.
Joseph J. Bozell, who earned his bachelor’s degree in professional chemistry from SDSU in 1975, speaks on that topic March 11-12 when he returns to SDSU to lead the sixteenth Henry A. Lardy Distinguished Lecture Series in Chemistry.
Bozell went on to earn his Ph.D. from Colorado State University in 1980 in organic synthesis and organometallic chemistry. He is currently associate professor of biomass chemistry at the University of Tennessee’s Forest Products Center.
A co-recipient of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Presidential Green Chemistry Award in 1999, Bozell said work on renewable feedstocks such as biomass has taken on new importance in recent years because of high petroleum prices.
Institutions such as the University of Tennessee and South Dakota State University have a common interest in examining the potential of non-traditional crops such as switchgrass as new sources of energy and chemicals, Bozell said.
“With most of the nonrenewable feedstocks that we use, probably 90 percent goes to fuel and 10 percent goes to chemical products. But that 10 percent generates a large amount of profits that help make the petrochemical industry spin,” Bozell said. “As we start to develop the biorefinery, there’s no reason to believe that the chemical products from a biorefinery won’t also generate the profits that will help make the fuel portion of the operation profitable.”
Bozell’s work focuses mainly on the chemicals and materials in addition to energy that can come from renewable feedstocks. He deals right now with three main areas of research.
He and his colleagues are doing fundamental science to learn how metal-based catalysts interact with biomass components. That is, they want to determine what kind of structures those catalysts make with sugars and how those sugars react.
That’s important work because the petrochemical industry currently uses catalysts in perhaps 85 percent of its processes. They improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve the rates and effectiveness of reactions. Catalysts will probably be as important in processing renewable feedstocks, Bozell said.
In addition, Bozell and his lab are studying nanostructural material that can be made from biomass. Such materials could have broad applications in nanotechnology, which involves controlling matter and making devices on the atomic and molecular scale.
“We have made a family of materials out of things that can come from sugars and things that could come from plant triglycerides, the same kinds of things that are currently used for making biodiesel. At nanoscale, these make new, very interesting shapes.”
Those new materials have potential uses in sensors, electronic devices, catalysts, or polymers.
Finally, Bozell and his co-researchers are studying new polymers that can come from biobased materials.
“Sugars are very amenable to transformation by different kinds of organisms,” he said. “We’re looking at some of the novel structures that organisms can produce and seeing if we can convert those into new biobased plastics. A lot of this gets down to choosing a couple of building blocks that can come from biomass, mixing them together and seeing what kind of polymers they make, and then seeing what kinds of properties they have.”
Bozell said an important part of moving the biobased economy forward — at the University of Tennessee as at SDSU and other research institutions — depends on a smooth transition between lab work and industry. Universities not only need to have a process for technology transfer, but they need to focus research on products and applications that industry is interested in.
Bozell lectures Tuesday, March 11, in Agricultural Engineering Room 100, starting with a 4 p.m. reception. The lecture is from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on biobased sources of chemicals and fuels to replace some petroleum.
He lectures Wednesday, March 12, in Room 0262 of the Student Union, the Lewis & Clark Room, starting with an 11:30 a.m. reception. He speaks from noon to 1 p.m. on new methodology for converting renewable feedstocks into chemicals and materials.
The Lardy lecture series in chemistry is named for distinguished SDSU graduate Henry A. Lardy, who received his bachelor of science degree from SDSU in 1939 with a joint major in chemistry and dairy science. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, where he remained in teaching and administrative positions.
The lecture series brings outstanding scientists who have made significant contributions in a field of chemistry to SDSU to speak.