[Award] Danilo Cantero: EFCE Excellence Award in Process Intensification 2015

Danilo Cantero, one of our PhD students, has been awarded the European Federation of Chemical Engineering Excellence Award in Process Intensification 2015 for his PhD thesis titled Intensification of cellulose hydrolysis process by supercritical water. Obtaining of added value products.

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The European Federation of Chemical Engineering has awarded Dr Danilo Cantero, a researcher of the High Pressure Processes Group at the University of Valladolid, their Excellence Award in Process Intensification 2015. His doctoral thesis, completed at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Technology under supervision of Prof. María José Cocero Alonso and Dr. María Dolores Bermejo Roda, received the best evaluation results in terms of relevance to process intensification, breadth and depth of the study, scientific impact and industrial relevance, innovation and dissemination of results.

The award has been presented on 28 Septemer 2015 during the 5th EPIC conference, held in Nice, France, from 27 September to 1 October 2015 in conjunction with ECCE10/ECAB3.

This thesis was focused in the development of a new process for converting cellulosic biomass into sugars using continuous ultra-fast micro reactors. This new process was called FastSugars due to the ability of the reactor to produce sugars selectively from cellulosic biomass in milliseconds. The developed process lies mainly in two factors: the speed of the reactions and the control over the reactions.

The speed of cellulose hydrolysis was extremely increased by working with supercritical water (SCW) as reaction medium, making it possible to completely hydrolyze cellulose in less than 100 ms. In addition, an effective control over the reactions by setting instantaneous heating and cooling methods allows the obtaining of high sugars yields. The
other control key is the choice of reaction medium: SCW. This is highly important because it drives the hydrolysis reactions. In a SCW medium the reactions of glucose isomerization and dehydration are highly inhibited favoring the obtaining of high sugars yield and completely disfavoring the production of the undesired 5-hydroxymethylfurfural. A new reaction model was created and validated for cellulose and glucose hydrolysis elucidating the important factors to control the hydrolysis reactions: the ions concentration.

This improvement in the process makes possible to change the huge volume of the traditional hydrolysis reactors (enzymatic) to the small supercritical water micro reactor without loosing selectivity and yield but increasing them. This change in the required volume is the key to develop the new philosophy of decentralized production of chemicals and fuels from renewable biomass. The FastSugars process allows obtaining sugars yields as high as 95% from cellulose hydrolysis and 75% from wheat bran hydrolysis. In addition high sugar content biomasses (Molasses and inulin) were employed to produce lactic acid. Near 50% of the biomass was converted into lactic acid in 3 s of reaction time.

Finally, an energetic evaluation of the process was done in order to evaluate its  applicability. The strategy was to link the cellulosic biomass hydrolysis process to the traditional methods of heat and power production by Combined Heat and Power Schemes. It was determined that the energy production per unit of fuel of the CHP schemes was increased in 10% by linking the process. In addition, using the residual heat and power from the CHP streams it is possible to completely hydrolyze the cellulosic biomass without the requirement of energy.

Danilo is currently working as a postdoctoral research fellow at Cornell University (NY, USA) and as a research scientist at Renmatix (PA, USA), where he is developing the industrial implementation of the supercritical water biomass fractionation process.

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