Industrial Bioproduct LabWestern Engineering

Research Interests and Contributions


NSERC-FPInnovations Industrial Research Chair in Forest Biorefinery (2011-2016)


Research Interest:

Major Research Contributions:

1. Forest bio-refining technologies for bio-based chemicals/materials from forestry residues/lignin. A novel low-T/low-P lignin de-polymerization process was developed, which realizes cost-effective conversion of kraft lignin (Mw ~ 10,000 g/mol) and hydrolysis lignin (Mw unmeasurable) into de-polymerized lignin (DL) of a lower molecular weight (Mw ~ 1,000-2,000 g/mol) at a high yield (70-90 %). The DL and liquefied woody biomass/barks were successfully utilized as bio-substitutes for phenols for production of bio-based phenol formaldehyde (BPF) resins/adhesives/foams, polyols for polyurethane (BPU) resins/foams, or bisphenol-A for the synthesis of lignin-based epoxy resins. A US patent for the technology has been filed, and the lignin de-polymerization technology was licensed to FPInnovations for further commercialization.

2. Agricultural bio-refining technologies for bio-based polymer materials from starch/crop residues. We developed an integrated biorefining process for high-value utilization of two major agricultural bioresources, i.e., starch from crops (corn/ wheat/potato) and cellulose/lignin fractionated from crop residues (e.g., wheat straw/cornstalk) or other energy crops such as switchgrass and mithcanthus, for the production of starch/cellulose acetate, carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), BPF wood adhesives, and hydrophilic BPU foams as hydroponic growing media for greenhouse planting. 

3. Development of cost-effective hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) processes for energy recovery from various solid wastes/residues. HTL process can efficiently liquefy solid biomass/organic wastes into bio-crude oil or simply bio-oil under mild operating conditions (50-100 bar, 200-350 °C). HTL process is particularly promising for conversion of wet bio-feedstocks with a high water content, such as greenhouse residues, wastewater sludge, algae, manure, etc. as it eliminates the need of costly de-watering/drying operation that is required otherwise in conventional thermal/thermochemical processes (combustion, pyrolysis or gasification). A two-stage HTL process for co-production of bio-crude and bio-gas from wastewater sludge together with other solid wastes was developed, with a PCT patent filed recently.

4. Production of highly porous activated petroleum coke (APC) as cost-effective adsorbents in adsorption treatment of oil sands process-affected water (OSPW) for recovery of naphthenic acids (NAs). In this work, highly porous activated petroleum coke (APC) were produced as cost-effective adsorbents with tailored structure/surface properties for treatment of OSPW and tailings for NAs recovery.

5. Development of novel heterogeneous catalysts and catalytic processes for green fuels and chemicals. Novel heterogeneous catalysts were developed for generation of H2/CH4 by supercritical water gasification (SCWG) of wet biomass or organic wastes, and for hydro-de-oxygenation (HDO) of pyrolysis oils or bio-crude oils into drop-in biofuels. Inexpensive heterogeneous catalysts and continuous-flow processes were developed for conversion of glucose/fructose into 5-HMF (a platform chemical) and furan dicarboxylic acid (FDCA) for the synthesis of polyethylene furanoate (PEF) – a bio-replacement for PET, and conversion of glycerol to high-value green chemicals: solketal as fuel additive, 1,2-propanediol, 1-propanol, etc.

6. Practical applications. Our research by far has resulted in 20 invention disclosures and 10 PCT/US/Canadian/Chinese patents pending or issued on various new technologies for the development of environmental catalysts, bio-energy and bio-based chemicals and materials. Four of these technologies have been licensed for commercialization.