Leverhulme Trust Lecture: Biofuels as through a mirror, brightly – Talk by Phillip R. Westmoreland

Research in the last five years has established new chemical insight into the production and use of biofuels.

Chemical mechanisms for fast pyrolysis of woody biomass have been elusive until recently. Our experiments and quantum-chemical modelling have now revealed the elementary pericyclic reactions that dominate cellulose pyrolysis in the absence of ions, promising the development of truly fundamental reaction-engineering models. In addition, we have now established combustion chemistry for a wide range of biofuels with molecular-beam mass spectrometry. Still, biofuels embody both the opportunities and the challenges of our energy future. Burning any carbon-based fuel creates CO2, and reducing CO2 production appears crucial. Details of this research and of its larger context will be discussed.

Phillip R. Westmoreland is a professor at North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC, in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He served as 2013 President of AIChE, the US-based international professional society for chemical engineers. He is presently the Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor at Imperial College London.

Professor Westmoreland's research focuses on reaction kinetics and reaction engineering. Results are obtained from experiments, computational chemistry, and reactive-flow modelling, increasingly aided by information science.  The main technology driver is clean energy from fossil and biofuels, but he has also been involved with developing fire-safe polymers, hypergolic rocket fuels, and plasma processing of microelectronics.