Phosphorus catalysis in the pyrolysis behaviour of biomass

Daniel J. Nowakowski, Charles R. Woodbridge, Jenny M. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phosphorus is a key plant nutrient and as such, is incorporated into growing biomass in small amounts. This paper examines the influence of phosphorus, present in either acid (HPO) or salt ((NH)PO) form, on the pyrolysis behaviour of both Miscanthus × giganteus, and its cell wall components, cellulose, hemicellulose (xylan) and lignin (Organosolv). Pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (PY-GC-MS) is used to examine the pyrolysis products during thermal degradation, and thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) is used to examine the distribution of char and volatiles. Phosphorus salts are seen to catalyse the pyrolysis and modify the yields of products, resulting in a large increase in char yield for all samples, but particularly for cellulose and Miscanthus. The thermal degradation processes of cellulose, xylan and Miscanthus samples occur in one step and the main pyrolysis step is shifted to lower temperature in the presence of phosphorus. A small impact of phosphorus was observed in the case of lignin char yields and the types of pyrolysis decomposition products produced. Levoglucosan is a major component produced in fast pyrolysis of cellulose. Furfural and levoglucosenone become more dominant products upon P-impregnation pointing to new rearrangement and dehydration routes. The P-catalysed xylan decomposition route leads to a much simpler mixture of products, which are dominated by furfural, 3-methyl-2-cyclopenten-1-one and one other unconfirmed product, possibly 3,4-dihydro-2-methoxy-2H-pyran or 4-hydroxy-5,6-dihydro-(2H)-pyran-2-one. Phosphorus-catalysed lignin decomposition also leads to a modified mixture of tar components and desaspidinol as well as other higher molecular weight component become more dominant relative to the methoxyphenyl phenols, dimethoxy phenols and triethoxy benzene. Comparison of the results for Miscanthus lead to the conclusion that the understanding of the fast pyrolysis of biomass can, for the most part, be gained through the study of the individual cell wall components, provided consideration is given to the presence of catalytic components such as phosphorus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-204
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis
Issue number2
Early online date19 Aug 2008
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008


  • pyrolysis
  • miscanthus
  • lignocellulose
  • phosphorus
  • catalysis


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