Xu named new forest biorefinery Chair

University of Western Ontario chemical engineering professor Charles Xu was named Industrial Research Chair in Forest Biorefinery, a joint venture between Western, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and FPInnovations. The announcement was made this morning at Western’s Institute for Chemicals and Fuels from Alternative Resources (ICFAR).

“The strength of this Chair rests not only in the advances it enables in green energy and environmental sustainability research, but in the training of highly qualified personnel who will be better prepared to meet the needs of existing and emerging commercial applications for bio-energy and forest bio-refinery,” says Ted Hewitt, Western’s vice-president (research and international relations).

The Chair, valued at more than $2.5 million over five years, will create new opportunities between the forest and chemical process industries by developing the following new knowledge and technologies, and transferring them to the Canadian forest and chemical industry:

  • Cost-effective approaches to depolymerize lignin into bio-phenols;
  • Methods to produce bio-resins and adhesives products using monomeric bio-phenols derived from bio-oils, black liquor or lignin;
  • Novel supercritical water gasification process and catalysts for on-site hydrogen generation from the bio-oil-derived aqueous products; and
  • Novel catalysts and processes employing a supercritical solvent for hydro-de-oxygenation of bio-crude into liquid transportation fuels (gasoline, diesel or jet fuels) or alternative feedstock for a conventional petroleum refinery.

Forest biomass and residues (such as harvesting residues, sawdust, wood waste and bark) and pulp and paper by-products (such as black liquor and lignin) can be promising renewable sources for energy utilities and chemical feedstock. That, however, depends on economically viable processes and technologies, such as forest bio-refining technologies, being developed.

“NSERC wants to make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators,” says Suzanne Fortier, NSERC president. “Dr. Xu is conducting leading-edge research that is creating new opportunities in forestry, one of Canada’s oldest industries. His focus on bio-based materials will open the doors for new products and lead to considerable progress in what is still a very young area of research.”

This program will also offer nine graduate students and a half dozen summer students unique opportunities in the broad disciplines of chemical engineering, polymer science/engineering, fuel technology, wood science and engineering. These students will gain valuable work experience by spending time at industrial partner facilities. In addition, they will gain unique skills related to technology transfer and commercialization activities with which they will be directly involved throughout the research program.

“The strong partnership between FPInnovations and industrial partners, Sarnia BioIndustrial Innovation Centre and Arclin, is a new bridge between the forest product and chemical industries that will greatly facilitate the development and implementation of new technologies and products from this research program,” says Jean Hamel, FPInnovations vice-president. “A successful technology implementation to industrial sites would help re-invigorate Canada’s forest and chemical processing industries by producing value added bio-products (green fuels and chemicals) from forest resources using renewable and sustainable feedstock.”