Presented by Dr. Chris Byrne, P.E. - Professor, Western Kentucky University
April 12, 2012
One of the oldest processes for making engineered products is the pyrolysis of plant materials. Some of the earliest products were soot for coloring and charcoal for cooking. Charcoal manufacture became a major industry during the late 19th century when it was produced for the expanding steel industry. During that time the development of steel retorts also allowed distillation by-products to be captured which were sold as a variety of chemicals including wood alcohol, acetic acid and tars. Such processing largely ceased in developed countries in the 20th century owing to increasingly available coal and oil reserves. This presentation will cover a new technology for utilizing plant pyrolysis to produce engineered - materials and/or biofuels. Controlled carbonization of wood is used to produce bio-templates for the subsequent manufacture of ceramics and carbon composites. Ceramic material production with this approach creates a refractory material containing a wood microstructure. The bio-template is also used to create carbon/carbon composites, sandwich composites, or simply activated to produce a monolithic filter. One product recently developed is a carbon-polymer composite as a substitute for endangered tropical woods such as Ebony and Blackwood. These materials will be described along with recent research in the development of bio-fuels from wood distillation byproducts.