Fast pyrolysis of biomass thermally cracks solid biopolymers to generate a transportable liquid (bio-oil) which can be upgraded and integrated with the existing petroleum infrastructure. Understanding how the components of biomass, such as cellulose, break down to form bio-oil constituents is critical to developing successful biofuels technologies. In this work, we use a novel co-pyrolysis technique and isotopically labeled starting materials to show that levoglucosan, the most abundant product of cellulose pyrolysis (60% of total), is deoxygenated within molten biomass to form products with higher energy content (pyrans and light oxygenates). The yield of these products can be increased by a factor of six under certain reaction conditions, e.g., using long condensed-phase residence times encountered in powder pyrolysis. Finally, co-pyrolysis experiments with deuterated glucose reveal that hydrogen exchange is a critical component of levoglucosan deoxygenation.
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