In the Tomorrow's Chemical Technologies Lab, we carry out high-risk/high-gain research into catalytic valorisation of lignin and cellulose by unconventional approaches, such as catalytic transfer hydrogenation, mechanocatalysis and solvent design. (Google Scholar)
At the forefront of our research is the deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass through the Early-Stage Catalytic Conversion of Lignin (ECCL), as known as ‘Lignin-First’ approach. ECCL constitutes an emerging multidisciplinary research field targeting the valorisation of waste lignocellulosic materials (e.g. crop residues) to its fullest. It involves the concurrent extraction and catalytic conversion of the lignin fragments released from plant biomass in a one-pot process. In this manner, ECCL benefits from the intrinsically high reactivity of the lignin oligomers, leading to further depolymerisation (via hydrogenolysis of ether linkages) and, most importantly, to the passivation of the intermediates (via hydrodeoxygenation of aldehyde and ketone groups), thus protecting the lignin fragments not only from recondensation but also redepositing on the cellulosic fibres. In short, this novel approach renders a high yield of mono-aromatic products (>60%) and highly delignified pulps, allowing for the full utilisation of lignocellulose.
We undertake pioneering research at the border of Wood Chemistry, Catalysis and Reaction Engineering, aiming at:
- Understanding (and control over) the solvolytic release of lignin fragments;
- Advancing the molecular understanding of H-transfer reactions catalysed by sponge Ni catalysts to accelerate the discovery of catalytic methods for lignin valorisation;
- Reaction engineering of the interdependent processing steps for fractionation of the initial biomass feedstock (catalytic upstream biorefining or CUB) to the intended value-added products (catalytic downstream processing).
Our ECCL research is supported by the ERC Consolidator Grant 2016 (LIGNINFIRST, Project Number: 725762).
Roberto Rinaldi studied Chemistry at the State University of Campinas, Sao Paulo, Brazil and received his PhD in 2006. A year later, he joined the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung as postdoctoral research fellow where he became a Junior Group Leader in 2009. In 2010 he received the prestigious Sofja-Kovalevskaja Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, allowing him to launch his independent research group and develop outstanding research on lignin valorisation. For his contribution to advanced concepts for dissolution and deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass, he was awarded the Willi Keim Prize 2014 given by the Advanced Fluids Subject Division of ProcessNet (an initiative of DECHEMA and VDI-GVC). He was appointed Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London in 2015 and he has since established his research group (Tomorrow's Chemical Technologies Lab) and published a number of papers in leading international journals including among others Angewandte Chemie and ChemSusChem. More recently, he was invited to join the International Advisory Board of the journal ChemCatChem and appointed Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
et al., 2015, Mechanocatalytic Depolymerization of Lignocellulose Performed on Hectogram and Kilogram Scales, Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, Vol:54, ISSN:0888-5885, Pages:4581-4592
Wang X, Rinaldi R, 2013, A Route for Lignin and Bio-Oil Conversion: Dehydroxylation of Phenols into Arenes by Catalytic Tandem Reactions, Angewandte Chemie - International Edition, Vol:52, ISSN:1433-7851, Pages:11499-11503
Ferrini P, Rinaldi R, 2014, Catalytic Biorefining of Plant Biomass to Non-Pyrolytic Lignin Bio-Oil and Carbohydrates through Hydrogen Transfer Reactions, Angewandte Chemie - International Edition, Vol:53, ISSN:1433-7851, Pages:8634-8639
et al., 2014, Mechanocatalytic depolymerization of cellulose and raw biomass and downstream processing of the products, Catalysis Today, Vol:234, ISSN:0920-5861, Pages:24-30
Rinaldi R, 2014, Catalytic Hydrogenation for Biomass Valorization, Royal Society of Chemistry, ISBN:9781849738019
Rinaldi R, 2015, Solvents and solvent effects in biomass conversion, Pages:74-98