Science - April 9, 2020

How to produce chemicals out of biomass with electricity

Text:
Albert Sikkema

Lars Kiewidt, a postdoc in the Biobased Chemistry and Technology chair group, wants to make chemicals and materials out of renewable biomass using electricity. He received one of six tenure track grants from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) in March.

Side-streams arise during the processing of chips, ©Shutterstock

Kiewidt has received the grant from the NWO to discover catalysts that can convert bio-based side-streams from the food and agricultural industry into useful products. For example, the processing of potatoes creates a side-stream with a lot of starch. Kiewidt wants to build chemicals from this starch, to produce bio-based coatings for the paper industry. To this end, he needs to develop electro-catalysts that efficiently transform this starch into the desired materials.

Catalysts
The big challenge for Kiewidt is: which electro-catalysts will convert biomass into useful materials? And how should the electro-catalyst be designed? Electrocatalysis – triggering chemical reactions with electricity – is a hot topic in life sciences. Scientists expect that we will have plenty of green energy in future and will face a shortage of oil-based raw materials for the chemical industry. For that reason, the production of chemicals out of biomass will become a significant branch in the chemical industry, Kiewidt expects.

The NWO grant of 900.000 euros allows Kiewidt to research this subject for the next five years. Moreover, he can hire a PhD-student.