As the most bountiful polymer on earth, cellulose stores solar energy with atmosphere-derived carbon as a semi-crystalline solid with structural capability to physically support trees and grasses. With its counterpart lignin, the composite material of lignocellulose evolved to become resistant to biological decomposition (and utilization). Human development has instead harvested the captured energy of cellulose through extreme chemical reaction (e.g., cow digestion) or thermal activation (e.g., fire). In this presentation, the behavior of cellulose via thermal activation is linked to the chemistry and kinetics of several chain scission mechanisms, including the role of natural metal catalyst impurities obtained by plants from soil. Cellulose is shown to interact via hydrogen bonding with itself and neighboring chains, leading to catalytic activation mechanisms dependent on the extent and orientation of the local hydrogen bonding network. The conditions leading to cellulose chain scission ultimately dictate the design of bioenergy chemical reactors, which aim to maximize the formation of volatile molecules for downstream chemical refining to biofuels and biochemicals.
Seminars are open to alumni, friends of the Department, and the general public.