Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Chemical and Biochemical Engineering

First Advisor

Gary A. Aurand

Second Advisor

David Rethwisch


The uncertainties in the continuous supply of fossil fuels from the crisis-ridden oil-rich region of the world is fast shifting focus on the need to utilize cellulosic biomass and develop more efficient technologies for its conversion to fuels and chemicals. One such technology is the rapid degradation of cellulose in supercritical water without the need for an enzyme or inorganic catalyst such as acid. This project focused on the study of reaction kinetics of cellulose hydrolysis in subcritical and supercritical water. Cellulose reactions at hydrothermal conditions can proceed via the homogeneous route involving dissolution and hydrolysis or the heterogeneous path of surface hydrolysis. The work is divided into three main parts. First, the detailed kinetic analysis of cellulose reactions in micro- and tubular reactors was conducted. Reaction kinetics models were applied, and kinetics parameters at both subcritical and supercritical conditions were evaluated. The second major task was the evaluation of yields of water soluble hydrolysates obtained from the hydrolysis of cellulose and starch in hydrothermal reactors. Lastly, changes in molecular weight distribution due to hydrothermolytic degradation of cellulose were investigated. These changes were also simulated based on different modes of scission, and the pattern generated from simulation was compared with the distribution pattern from experiments. For a better understanding of the reaction kinetics of cellulose in subcritical and supercritical water, a series of reactions was conducted in the microreactor. Hydrolysis of cellulose was performed at subcritical temperatures ranging from 270 to 340 °C (ô = 0.40-0.88 s). For the dissolution of cellulose, the reaction was conducted at supercritical temperatures ranging from 375 to 395 °C (ô = 0.27 - 0.44 s). The operating pressure for the reactions at both subcritical and supercritical conditions was 5000 psig. The results show that the rate-limiting step in converting cellulose to fermentable sugars in subcritical and supercritical water differs because of the difference in their activation energies. Cellulose and starch were both hydrolyzed in micro- and tubular reactors and at subcritical and supercritical conditions. Due to the difficulty involved in generating an aqueous based dissolved cellulose and having it reacted in subcritical water, dissolved starch was used instead. Better yield of water soluble hydrolysates, especially fermentable sugars, were observed from the hydrolysis of cellulose and dissolved starch in subcritical water than at supercritical conditions. The concluding phase of this project focuses on establishing the mode of scission of cellulose chains in the hydrothermal reactor. This was achieved by using the simulated degradation pattern generated based on different scission modes to fingerprint the degradation pattern obtained from experiment.


Biomass, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Kinetics, Simulation, Supercritical


xv, 222 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 217-222).


Copyright 2012 Kazeem Bode Olanrewaju