3rd Chemical Engineering Diamond Jubilee Keynote: To Biofuel or Not To Biofuel; Is That the Question?


Sanderson Building, Lecture Theatre 1, King's Buildings, University of Edinburgh


Thursday, February 11, 2016 - 12:45 to 14:00

To Biofuel or Not To Biofuel; Is That the Question?

The 3rd Chemical Engineering Diamond Jubilee Keynote Lecture by Prof Phillip Westmoreland: This talk is the third of talks celebrating 60 years of Chem Eng at Edinburgh!

Chemical engineering is entering a new Golden Age of practice, thought, and impact, accompanied by new opportunities and challenges. Some of the reasons are a new abundance of hydrocarbons; the evolution of biology into a molecular science; the ubiquity of powerful computational tools; the trend in manufacturing to be more process-oriented; and the chemical + systems approach that is part of ChE education from its first stages.

The production of biofuels illustrates both the opportunities and challenges that society and the profession of chemical engineering face. Technically, it is a challenge because of the dispersed resource, its water content, and the acid, tarry content of the major thermal production method, fast pyrolysis. Chemical mechanisms for fast pyrolysis have been elusive until recently. Our experiments and quantum-chemical modeling have revealed the elementary pericyclic reactions that dominate cellulose pyrolysis in the absence of ions, promising the development of fundamental reaction-engineering models. Details of this research and its larger context will be discussed.

At the same time, burning any carbon-based fuel generates CO2, and shifting the the global carbon balance away from CO2 seems crucial. Biofuels are also in competition with suddenly and remarkably cheap oil. All of this activity points to chemical engineering as being a pivotal discipline for the technical, economic, and societal decisions of the day.


Phillip R. Westmoreland is a professor at North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC, in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and he served as 2013 President of AIChE, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. During November 2015 until July 2016, he is Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College. His degrees are in chemical engineering from N.C. State (BS ’73), LSU (MS ’74), and MIT (PhD ’86). He was a Research Engineer in the coal-conversion program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 1974-79, was on the faculty of the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 1986-2009, and served at the National Science Foundation in 2006-2009.  He is also Honorary Professor at Nanjing University of Technology and served as Professeur invité at the Université de Lorraine. Phil’s research focuses on reaction kinetics and reaction engineering. Results are obtained from experiments, computational chemistry; on reactive-flow modeling; and on molecular-beam mass spectrometry.  The main technology driver is clean energy from fossil and biofuels, but he has also been involved with developing fire-safe polymers, hypergolic rocket fuels, and plasma processing of microelectronics. He is author or co-author of over 100 peer-reviewed publications and five books. He is a currently a trustee of the educational nonprofit CACHE Corporation, having served as its president in 2004-06. He is a past board member of the Combustion Institute (2002-2014), the Council for Chemical Research (2005-07), and AIChE (2009-11), and he was the founding Chair of AIChE’s Computational Molecular Science and Engineering Forum. His teaching, research, and service have been recognized in recent years by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab's David Shirley Award, AIChE's Gary Leach Award and George Lappin Award, ASEE's William Corcoran Award, the National Science Foundation Director’s Award for Collaborative Integration, the UMass College of Engineering’s Outstanding Senior Faculty Award, and by his being named Fellow of AIChE.

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Prof Phillip Westmoreland
Prof Phillip Westmoreland

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