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Climbing the Bio-based Value-pyramid by Novel Transformations

PhD ceremony:Mr B. (Balint) Fridrich
When:January 11, 2022
Supervisors:prof. dr. K. Barta, prof. dr. J.G. (Gerard) Roelfes
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Science and Engineering

In the last two centuries, the exponential industrial development was propelled by the exploitation of finite and depleting fossil resources, contributing – via the increased level of CO2 in the atmosphere – to climate change. Biomass could serve as an ideal carbon-neutral resource for the production of essential chemicals, until – or in parallel with – the realization of the direct, energy-efficient transformation of atmospheric CO2. This important research area has received a lot of attention in the past decade; however, the transition towards using renewable resources should be critically analyzed to deliver real net CO2 reduction and avoid unfair competition for food/feed. In this thesis, selected examples of neglected waste stream, volumes, potential applications are contrasted with the current demand for certain commodity chemicals. First, the synthesis of jet fuels and polymer building blocks from renewables via catalytic methodologies were demonstrated. Secondly, surfactants were identified as an ideal target for the incorporation of the neglected waste streams, e.g. lignocellulose and used cooking oil. Three high-performance surfactant families were designed, synthesized and characterized, capitalizing on the novel structures that are benign by design and obtained via catalytic methodologies under mild conditions.

The present work attempts laying the foundation of profitable upcycling of neglected waste streams and ultimately the development of fully sustainable and economically viable synthesis of high-performance surfactants. They could bring benefits across many local economies: from less developed rural regions to the ultimate testing ground of conscious material management: Space colonies.