George Huber Bio and Abstract

2012-13 EBI Seminar Series

Tuesday, October 23, 2012, 4 p.m.

Dr. George W. Huber

Professor, Chemical Engineering, University of Wisconsin


New Catalytic Technologies for Production of Renewable

Fuels and Chemicals from Biomass




The objective of the Huber research group is to develop processes for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals from renewable resources.  We use a wide range of modern chemical engineering tools to design and optimize these clean technologies including: heterogeneous catalysis, kinetic modeling, reaction engineering, spectroscopy, analytical chemistry, nanotechnology, catalyst synthesis, conceptual process design, and theoretical chemistry.  In this presentation we will discuss several new approaches for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals.


Diesel and jet fuel blendstocks can be produced by liquid phase processing of aqueous carbohydrate solutions.   We will show how renewable jet and diesel fuel can be produced from waste hemicellulose streams that are byproducts of the pulp and paper industry.  The first step in this process is the acid catalyzed dehydration of hemicellulose oligomers into furfural and acetic acid.   In the dehydration reactions undesired humins are formed through reactions between the furfural and carbohydrates and self- polymerization of the furfural.  We have designed a continuous biphasic reactor where a solvent is able to selectively remove the furfural before it reacts further to form undesired humins.  An economic analysis shows that this continuous biphasic process can produce furfural at costs of 25% the market value of furfural with energy savings of 75% compared to current industrial processes for furfural production.  Solid acid catalysts can be incorporated into this process offering additional cost benefits.   The selectivity to the desired furfural product is a function of the Bronstead to Lewis acid site ratio of the catalyst.  Bronstead acid sites selectively catalyze the desired dehydration reaction, whereas Lewis acid sites catalyze both furfural production and humin formation. By controlling the catalytic properties, solid acid catalysts can be designed for aqueous phase dehydration reactions that have comparable selectivity to homogeneous acids.


Aromatics and olefins can also be produced from biomass by catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP).  Catalytic fast pyrolysis involves the direct production of these petrochemicals in a single catalytic step.  Solid biomass is fed into a fluidized bed reactor where the solid biomass thermally decomposes.  The biomass vapors then enter a zeolite catalyst where a series of dehydration, decarbonylation and oligomerization reactions occur to form aromatics, olefins, CO, CO2, coke and water. Coke is formed from homogeneous decomposition reactions or catalytic reactions inside the zeolite.  We will discuss how the catalytic properties and reaction conditions can be adjusted to produce the desired aromatics and compare catalytic pyrolysis with standard pyrolysis reactions.


Aqueous phase hydrodeoxygenation (APHDO) converts water-soluble biomass-derived feedstocks (including aqueous carbohydrates, pyrolysis oils, and aqueous enzymatic products) into alkanes, alcohols and polyols.  In this process the biomass feed reacts with hydrogen to produce water and a deoxygenated product using a bifunctional catalyst that contains both metal and acid sites.  The challenge with APHDO is to selectively produce targeted products that can be used as fuel blendstocks or chemicals and to decrease the hydrogen consumption.  We will discuss the catalytic challenges, chemistry, kinetic modeling and reaction engineering that are involved in APHDO process.




George W. Huber is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Dr. Huber’s research focus is on developing new processes for the production of renewable liquid fuels and chemicals.  He is co-founder of Anellotech, a biochemical company focused on commercializing catalytic fast pyrolysis, a technology to produce renewable aromatics from biomass. Dr. Huber has twice testified at congressional briefings on the importance of catalysis and chemical engineering in solving our nation’s energy challenges.  He is one of the most highly cited young scholars in the chemical sciences, being cited over 1,100 times in 2011.  He has authored over 80 peer-reviewed publications, including three publications in Science.   He has received several awards, including the NSF CAREER award, the Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar award and the outstanding young faculty award (2010) by the college of engineering at UMass-Amherst.


Dr. Huber serves on the editorial board of Energy and Environmental Science, ChemCatChem, and The Catalyst Review.  In June 2007, he chaired an NSF and DOE funded workshop entitled “Breaking the Chemical and Engineering Barriers to Lignocellulosic Biofuels” ( He did a post-doctoral stay with Avelino Corma at the Technical Chemical Institute at the Polytechnical University of Valencia, Spain (UPV-CSIC), where he studied biofuels production using petroleum refining technologies.  He obtained his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison (2005), and his B.S. (1999) and M.S. (2000) degrees from Brigham Young University.