Aqueous Stream Characterization from Biomass Fast Pyrolysis and Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis

Brenna Pleitner, William Michener, Kelsey Kinley, Brandon Knott, Jessica Olstad-Thompson, Gregg Beckham, Ofei Mante, David Dayton, Mary Biddy, Mark Jarvis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus Citations


Biomass pyrolysis offers a promising means to rapidly depolymerize lignocellulosic biomass for subsequent catalytic upgrading to renewable fuels. Substantial efforts are currently ongoing to optimize pyrolysis processes including various fast pyrolysis and catalytic fast pyrolysis schemes. In all cases, complex aqueous streams are generated containing solubilized organic compounds that are not converted to target fuels or chemicals and are often slated for wastewater treatment, in turn creating an economic burden on the biorefinery. Valorization of the species in these aqueous streams, however, offers significant potential for substantially improving the economics and sustainability of thermochemical biorefineries. To that end, here we provide a thorough characterization of the aqueous streams from four pilot-scale pyrolysis processes: namely, from fast pyrolysis, fast pyrolysis with downstream fractionation, in situ catalytic fast pyrolysis, and ex situ catalytic fast pyrolysis. These configurations and processes represent characteristic pyrolysis processes undergoing intense development currently. Using a comprehensive suite of aqueous-compatible analytical techniques, we quantitatively characterize between 12 g kg-1 of organic carbon of a highly aqueous catalytic fast pyrolysis stream and up to 315 g kg-1 of organic carbon present in the fast pyrolysis aqueous streams. In all cases, the analysis ranges between 75 and 100% of mass closure. The composition and stream properties closely match the nature of pyrolysis processes, with high contents of carbohydrate-derived compounds in the fast pyrolysis aqueous phase, high acid content in nearly all streams, and mostly recalcitrant phenolics in the heavily deoxygenated ex situ catalytic fast pyrolysis stream. Overall, this work provides a detailed compositional analysis of aqueous streams from leading thermochemical processes-analyses that are critical for subsequent development of selective valorization strategies for these waste streams.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6815-6827
Number of pages13
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering
Issue number12
StatePublished - 5 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-67259


  • Biomass conversion
  • Biorefinery
  • Pyrolysis
  • Reforming
  • Thermochemical conversion
  • Wastewater


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