Chapter 8: Biomass Pyrolysis Oils

Robert McCormick, Robert Baldwin, Stephen Arbogast, Don Bellman, Dave Paynter, Jim Wykowski

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Fast pyrolysis is heating on the order of 1000°C/s in the absence of oxygen to 40-600°C, which causes decomposition of the biomass. Liquid product yield from biomass can be as much as 80% of starting dry weight and contains up to 75% of the biomass energy content. Other products are gases, primarily carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methane, as well as solid char and ash. Residence time in the reactor is only 0.5-2s so that relatively small, low-capital-cost reactors can be used. The low capital cost combined with greenhouse gas emission reductions relative to petroleum fuels of 50-95% makes pyrolysis an attractive process. The pyrolysis liquids have been investigated as a refinery feedstock and as stand-alone fuels. Utilization of raw pyrolysis oil has proven challenging. The organic fraction is highly corrosive because of its high organic acid content. High water content lowers the net heating value and can increase corrosivity. It can be poorly soluble in petroleum or petroleum products and can readily absorb water. Distillation residues can be as high as 50%, viscosity can be high, oils can exhibit poor stability in storage, and they can contain suspended solids. The ignition quality of raw pyrolysis oils is poor, with cetane number estimates ranging from 0 to 35, but more likely to be in the lower end of that range. While the use of raw pyrolysis oils in certain specific applications with specialized combustion equipment may be possible, raw oils must be significantly upgraded for use in on-highway spark-ignition (SI) and compression-ignition (CI) engines. Upgrading approaches most often involve catalytic hydrodeoxygenation, one of a class of reactions known as hydrotreating or hydroprocessing. This chapter discusses the properties of raw and upgraded pyrolysis oils, as well as the potential for integrating biomass pyrolysis with a petroleum refinery to significantly reduce the hydroprocessing cost.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationBiofuels from Lignocellulosic Biomass: Innovations Beyond Bioethanol
EditorsM. Boot
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783527685318
ISBN (Print)9783527338139
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. All rights reserved.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CH-5400-63918


  • Biomass
  • Diesel
  • Gasoline
  • Pyrolysis
  • Refinery integration
  • Upgrading


Dive into the research topics of 'Chapter 8: Biomass Pyrolysis Oils'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this