Research topics

Biomass deconstruction and chemical functionalization

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Biomass deconstruction aims to depolymerize the major plant biopolymers such as cellulose, hemicellulose (i.e. polysaccharides) and lignin (a heteropolymer of phenylpropanoid subunits). Lignin is especially easily destroyed during pulp and paper processing and most biorefinery processes. Our group is developing chemical functionalization techniques to avoid lignin destruction during extraction and to produce unique functionlized platform molecules from both lignin and carbohydrates. We also study organic solvent effects and enzymatic hydrolysis modeling to better understand the underlying mechanisms of biomass pretreatment and subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis.


Researchers involved in this work: Dr. Wu Lan, Dr. Graham Dick, Ydna Questell-Santiago, Jessica Rohrbach and Stefania Bertalla.

Recent work:

M. Talebi Amiri, G. R. Dick, Y. M. Questell-Santiago, and J. S. Luterbacher*. “Fractionation of lignocellulosic biomass to produce uncondensed aldehyde-stabilized lignin”. Nat. Protoc., 14: pp. 921-954, 2019. doi: 10.1038/s41596-018-0121-7

Y. M. Questell-Santiago, R. Zambrano-Varela, M. Talebi Amiri, and J. S. Luterbacher*. “Carbohydrate stabilization extends the kinetic limits of chemical polysaccharide depolymerization”. Nat. Chem., 10: pp. 1222-1228, 2018. doi: 10.1038/s41557-018-0134-4

L. Shuai, M. T. Amiri, Y. M. Questell-Santiago, F. Héroguel, Y. Li, H. Kim, R. Meilan, C. Chapple, J. Ralph, and J. S. Luterbacher*. “Formaldehyde stabilization facilitates lignin monomer production during biomass depolymerization”. Science, 354 (6310): pp. 329-333, 2016. doi: 10.1126/science.aaf7810


Catalytic route development for bio-based chemical production

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As we search for alternatives to fossil resources, biomass is an attractive sustainable feedstock especially for chemicals, which often need to be produced from complex carbon structures. In this context, fermentation-derived molecules (ethanol, carboxylic acids…), lignin-derived aromatics, and unique functionalized forms of lignin and carbohydrates are attractive candidates for catalytic route development to produce petrochemical substitutes. In parallel, we are also exploring the upgrading of low value biomass such as sewage sludge to valuable inorganic streams and methane.


Researchers involved in this work: Jher Hau Yeap, Raquel Zambrano Varela and Lorenz Manker.

Recent work:

J. H. Yeap, F. Héroguel, R. L. Shahab, B. Rozmyslowicz, M. H. Studer, and J. S. Luterbacher*. “Selectivity control during the single-step conversion of aliphatic carboxylic acids to linear olefins”. ACS Catal., 8 (11): pp. 10769-10773, 2018. doi: 10.1021/acscatal.8b03370

F. Héroguel, B. Rozmysowicz, and J. S. Luterbacher*. “Improving Heterogeneous Catalyst Stability for Liquid-phase Biomass Conversion and Reforming”. Chimia, 69 (10): pp. 582–591, 2015. doi: 10.2533/chimia.2015.582


Catalyst synthesis for renewable molecule production

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Renewable biomass-derived molecules, unlike those produced from petroleum are highly oxygenated, and often produced in dilute-aqueous streams. Heterogeneous catalysts – the workhorses of the petrochemical industry – are sensitive to water and contain many metals that easily sinter and leach in liquid-phase conditions. The production of renewable chemicals from biomass, especially valuable aromatics, often requires expensive platinum group metals and suffers from low selectivity. New synthetic methods based on catalyst overcoating present potential solutions to this problem. At LPDC, we are working on synthesis methods to precisely control surface functionalities of heterogeneous catalysts by the deposition of highly tailored metal oxide overcoats with sub-nanometer precision. Initial work show that our overcoats can eliminate irreversible deactivation of catalysts used in liquid phase conditions and greatly increase selectivity by creating active sites at the interface of metal, support and overcoat.


Researchers involved in this work: Dr. Florent Héroguel, Benjamin Le Monnier, Yuan-Peng Du and Farzaneh Talebkeikhah.

Recent work:

Y-P. Du, F. Héroguel, and J. S. Luterbacher*. “Slowing the Kinetics of Alumina Sol-Gel Chemistry for Controlled Catalyst Overcoating and Improved Catalyst Stability and Selectivity”. Small, 14 (34): pp. 1801733, 2018. doi: 10.1002/smll.201801733

F. Héroguel, L. Silvioli, Y.-P. Du and J. S. Luterbacher*. “Controlled deposition of titanium oxide overcoats by non-hydrolytic sol gel for improved catalyst selectivity and stability”. J. Catal., 358: pp. 50–61, 2018. doi: 10.1016/j.jcat.2017.11.023

F. Héroguel, B. P. Le Monnier, K. S. Brown, J. C. Siu, and J. S. Luterbacher. “Catalyst stabilization by stoichiometrically limited layer-by-layer overcoating in liquid media”. Appl. Catal., B, 218: pp. 643–649, 2017. doi: 10.1016/j.apcatb.2017.07.006