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Chapter 8

Hydrothermal Processing of Biomass

Biomass can be reformed into higher-value fuels using hydrothermal processes that employ high-temperature and high-pressure water as a reaction medium. Hydrothermal processing obviates feedstock drying and can achieve high energy efficiencies through heat integration. Hydrothermal liquefaction occurs under mild conditions (250–350 °C) in which biomass hydrolyzes rapidly and reacts to form a viscous bio-crude oil. At higher temperatures (350–500 °C), catalysts may be employed to promote the formation of CH4-rich gas in the process of catalytic hydrothermal gasification. Supercritical conditions (500–800 °C) may be used to achieve a H2-rich gas through supercritical water gasification (SCWG). The reaction chemistry underlying these hydrothermal processes is complex and not fully understood, but the influence of temperature, pressure, feedstock concentration, and the presence of catalysts on this chemistry has been extensively studied. In this chapter, we review hydrothermal processing of biomass, with a focus on the chemistry that describes biomass conversion under various hydrothermal conditions. Special attention is given to the relatively recent interest in processing aquatic feedstocks, such as algae, in a hydrothermal environment.

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Print publication date
10 Sep 2010
Copyright year
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From the book series:
Energy and Environment Series