Objectives: Maximize the economic value of trees…

  • Develop bio-oil platform forest biorefinery for conversion of forest biomass and residues into high-value industrial bioproducts (bio-fuels, bio-based chemicals and materials).
  • Train HQPs with necessary skills for the emerging bioeconomy.
  • Identify and develop new synergies and opportunities between the forestry and chemical process industries.

Overview of the projects for IRC/ORF in Forest Biorefinery Program

Conversion of Forestry Biomass and Residues into Marketable Products

Research Projects

ORF-1: Extraction of highly valuable chemicals in forest biomass and bio-oils using water, supercritical CO2 and other organic solvents (PI: Charpentier; Co-investigators: Yeung, Abou-Zaid, Berruti, Briens and Xu)  

ORF-2: Fast pyrolysis of forestry residues and lignin (PIs: Briens, Berruti; Co-Investigators: Yeung, Abou-Zaid and Albion)

ORF-3: Hydrothermal liquefaction/de-polymerization of forestry residues and lignin (PI: Xu; Co-investigator: Yeung, Abou-Zaid and Albion

ORF-4: Conversion of bio-oil-derived aqueous products and carbohydrates into hydrogen and platform chemicals (PI: Xu,; Co-investigators: Briens, Berruti, Charpentier)  

ORF-5: Conversions of the pyrolysis oil and hydrothermal biocrude into industrial bioproducts (green diesel/jet-fuels, bio-based PF adhesives/foam, PU foam and epoxy resin) (PI: Xu; Co-investigators: Schmidt , Anderson, Albion, Abou-Zaid )

ORF-6: Techno-economic analysis and business modeling studies on an integrated bio-oil platform forest biorefinery plant (PIs: Xu, Berruti, Briens, Schmidt and Albion; Co-investigators: Berruti, Briens, Anderson)

Integration of Different Projects

main research areas

Research Team (Including graduated HQPs)

Position - Number

  • University Professors - 5
  • Industrial Researchers - 4
  • Postdoctoral Fellow/Research Associate - 5
  • PhD Students - 15
  • Masters Students - 6
  • Undergraduate Students or Equivalent - 10
  • Visiting Professors/Scholars - 3
  • Technician - 2

Total - 50


  • Dr. F. Berruti (Western)
  • Dr. C. Xu (Western)
  • Dr. C. Briens (Western)
  • Dr. P. Charpentier (Western)
  • Dr. K. Yeung (Western)
  • Dr. J. Schmidt (FPInnovations)
  • Dr. M. Anderson (Arclin)
  • Dr. K. Albion (Research Park/BIC)

Examples of student projects


(1) Osariemen Ogbeide (PhD student)

Title: Extraction of valuable chemicals from bio-oil using supercritical carbon dioxide

Description: This research focuses on supercritical fluid extraction technology employing supercritical carbon dioxide (SC-CO2) with and without co-solvents for the separation of high value chemicals from pyrolyzed bio-oil. Research activities include:

  • Batch supercritical fluid extraction of valuable chemicals from biofuels.

  • Characterization of different bio-oils and their respective SC-CO2 extracts using analytical instruments (gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy, liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy with orbitrap, high pressure liquid chromatography, supercritical fluid chromatography, gel permeation chromatography and fourier transform infrared spectroscopy).

  • Phase equilibrium calculations of biofuels in SC-CO2.

  • Process simulation and thermodynamic modeling studies using Aspen Plus simulator for modeling of co-current and counter-current supercritical fluid extraction of chemicals from biomass and bio-oil.

  • Design and cost analysis of the continuous co-current and counter-current supercritical fluid extraction process.

(2) Md Zakir Hossain (PhD student)

Title: Separation of Valuable Chemicals using Supercritical Water Gasification

Description: Supercritical water gasification (SCWG) is a hydrothermal process of converting waste biomass into value-added chemicals including hydrogen or syngas. SCWG has several advantages compared to traditional gasification including the direct use of wet biomass feedstocks, a single reactor for biomass hydrolysis and gasification, additional H2 generation through reforming, and a compressed gas product convenient for storage and transportation. The addition of catalyst in SCWG results in high yield of hydrogen and lower carbon monoxide yield via the water-gas shift reaction and accelerates overall gasification efficiency. In this work, metal supported graphene assemblies will be examined as both adsorbents and catalysts during SCWG of biomass. The grapheme metal oxide assemblies will be characterized by using BET, XRD, TPR, Chemisorption, SEM, TEM, Raman and stability and performance tests will be done both in both batch and continuous processes. Interaction of metal oxide nanostructures with grapheme will also be performed in this work using density functional theory (DFT).


(3) Dr. Dongbing  Li (PDF)

Title: Fast Pyrolysis of Residues to Produce Phenolic Chemicals

Description: Bio-oil from Fast Pyrolysis of bio-residues has great potential for the production of fuels and aromatic chemicals. In this study, Fractional condensation technology was used to provide dry bio-oil with 1 % of water. The objectives of this research are to develop a self-sustainable fast pyrolysis process (or autothermal pyrolysis process) with partial (air) oxidation, for both birch bark and Kraft lignin, and to maximize the yield and quality of the resulting dry bio-oil. The autothermal pyrolysis process is attractive because it needs no external heating, resulting in simplified reactor design.


(4) Shanhua Huang (MESc student)

Title 1: Reductive De-polymerization of Kraft Lignin to Bio-chemicals & Fuels via Employing Formic Acid as in-situ Hydrogen Source

Description: In this study formic acid (FA) was employed in the reductive de-polymerization of kraft lignin (KL). FA led to in-situ production of hydrogen which helped to stabilize the intermediates to inhibit char/coke production resulting from cross-linking/re-polymerization reactions. Under the best operating conditions, ~ 88 wt% yield of de-polymerized lignin (DL) products with <1 wt% yield of solid residue (SR) was achieved. The weight-average molecular weight of KL was remarkably reduced from its original Mw of 10,000 to Mw of DL of 1270 g/mol. Different heterogeneous catalysts were employed to optimize the reductive lignin depolymerization. With the assistance of catalyst, the molecular weight Mw was remarkably reduced to ~ 2000 g/mol at a lower temperature (200 °C), while remaining the DL yield of >80 wt%.


(5) Sadra Souzanchi (PhD student)

Title: Catalytic Conversion of Glucose to 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) in Aqueous Media and a Continuous-Flow Reactor System

Description: During the past decades, 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) has attracted intensive attention because it can be an alternative renewable resource for sustainable energy and chemicals production. HMF is a versatile intermediate platform precursor for the production of prospective biofuels and a wide variety of valuable chemicals and materials. HMF is mainly synthesized through dehydration of monosaccharides preferentially from fructose. Although previous studies declare that fructose is much more reactive and selective toward HMF than glucose, the use of glucose as the feedstock for bulk production of HMF is considered more cost-effective because glucose is much cheaper with more abundant resources in the nature. Consequently, isomerization of glucose to fructose is the initial and important step for effective production of HMF from glucose. It has been proved that glucose is isomerized to fructose by base catalysts while fructose is dehydrated to HMF by acid catalysts. The main objective of this research is to develop a cost-effective continuous process for production of HMF from glucose in aqueous phase as an inexpensive reaction media using different heterogeneous base and acid catalysts. The influences of operating conditions such as initial concentration of glucose, temperature, feeding flow rate and catalyst amount is studied. Moreover, a kinetics model is proposed for this reaction.


(6) Shanghuan Feng (PhD student)

Title: Bark Liquefaction and the Application of Liquefied Bark in Phenol Formaldehyde Resins

Description: Bark, which is defined as all the tissues external to and surrounding the vascular cambium, comprises about 9-15% of a typical log by volume. Mainly derives from pulp and wood industries, the annual bark yield in Canada is around 17 million m3 is produced in Canada. However, bark is still underutilized due to its heterogeneous structure, diverse chemical composition, low strength and dark color. Different from wood, bark contains a greater content of aromatic compounds such as tannin and lignin, which could be a potential phenol alternative for phenol in phenol formaldehyde resin synthesis. This work includes two parts: the first refers to bark liquefaction in ethanol/water co-solvents for phenolic bio-crude oils. The second is on the application of phenolic bio-crude oil in PF resin synthesis through partially substituting petroleum based phenol, thermal characterization bio-based PF (BPF) resin, and liquefied bark as an additive for reducing formaldehyde emission level from bonded 3-ply plywood products.

(7) Yongsheng Zhang (PhD student)

Title: Bio-based and Formaldehyde-free Phenolic Resins from Glucose and Applications in Composite Materials and Adhesives

Description: Over 90% of the chemicals and polymers used today are derived from petroleum. The desire to reduce the dependence on crude oil has led to a growing research interest in the use of lignocellulosic biomass as a source of chemicals. Meanwhile, because of the increased environmental awareness and stringent environmental regulations, most manufacturers are searching for ‘greener’ and more environmentally friendly alternatives to the conventional polymers. As the first commercial synthetic resin in the polymer industry, phenolic resins (PF resins) still play an indispensable role in the production of many materials (adhesives, fire retarding materials, etc.). However, the toxicity of phenol and formaldehyde, has posed challenges to environment and sustainability. Few studies reported on substituting the carcinogenic formaldehyde with environmentally benign chemicals. In this project, Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) derived from glucose was successfully applied to replace formaldehyde in synthesizing novel novolac type phenolic resins. Some non-HMTA based curing agents to realize cross-linking of the glucose-based resins were also developed.

(8) Nubla Mahmood (PhD student)

Title: Low Pressure Hydrolytic Depolymerization of Kraft and Hydrolysis Lignins for the Production of Polyols and Bio-based PU Foams

Description: Kraft lignin (KL) extracted from black liquor (BL) by precipitation is a major side product from kraft pulping industries available in large quantities. Where, hydrolysis lignin (HL) is the solid residue remained after the cellulosic enzymatic hydrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass. HL contains up to 50-60% of lignin with the remaining being a mixture of cellulose, mono & oligosaccharides. Polyols, one of the essential raw materials for polyurethane (PU) production, are the compounds having multiple hydroxyl (-OH) groups available for organic reactions. Because of lignin’s special phenyl propanol structure and aryl-alkyl ether bonding, KL and HL can be good sources of polyols. De-polymerization of lignins using an organic solvent is an advantageous process to produce bio-based polyols under atmospheric to low operating pressure (<150 psig). The major objectives are to produce polyols with high yield, low molecular weight and moderate hydroxyl number for replacing ≥50 wt% of commercial polyols with lignin derived polyols in the production of rigid polyurethane foam for insulation materials.

(9) Bing Li (PhD student)

Title: Production of Bio-based Phenol Formaldehyde Foam for Fire-resistant Materials

Description: Rigid closed-cell phenol formaldehyde (PF) foam as one of common thermal insulated materials has found increasing applications, because of its excellent thermal conductivity and exceptional flame-retardant properties. However, phenolic compounds and formaldehyde are not only toxic but both produced from the depleting fossil resources. The main objective of this project is to develop fire-resistant bio-based PF foam materials by partially substituting phenol with bio-phenols from forestry and agricultural residues (bark, lignin, etc.). The resulted bio-based PF foam has acceptable thermal, physical and mechanical properties, for the applications in fire retardant board and other fireproof thermal-insulation materials.

(10) Fatemeh Ferdosian (PhD student)

Title: Synthesis of lignin-based Epoxy Resins

Description: Epoxidation of lignin is a promising as the bio-based epoxy resins can be used for coatings and adhesive industries. In this project, the bio-based epoxy resins were synthesized by the reaction of de-polymerized lignin with epichlorohydrin in alkaline condition and in presence of a phase transfer catalyst at a low epichlorohydrin-to-lignin ratio (<=10, much lower than that of the conversional epoxy resin manufacture, i.e., 10-20). The effects of reaction time, reaction temperature and sodium hydroxide/lignin ratio were investigated. A statistical optimization process was also conducted to achieve a bio-based epoxy resin with a higher epoxy index and a lower molecular weight.

(11) Matthew Tymchyshyn (PhD student)

Title: HDO Upgrading of Lignin-derived Oils using ovel carbon-based catalysts

Description: This project aims to develop new effective catalysts for the catalytic hydrotreatment of lignin-derived bio-oils to remove oxygen and/or sulfur and hydrogenate the aromatics into fuels and chemicals via thermo-liquefaction. This includes: production of aromatic/phenolic compounds for use as chemicals, and reduction of molecular weight and oxygen content of the lignin-derived oils for use as advanced bio-fuels.

(12) Cheng (Celine) Guo (MESc student)

Title: Develop of Inexpensive Catalysts for Bio-oil Upgrading by Hydrodeoxygenation

Description: Catalytic hydro-de-oxygenation (HDO) has been considered an effective technical route to upgrade fast pyrolysis oil to liquid transportation fuels, where normally expensive catalysts such as Ru/C are used. The intent of the research was to explore inexpensive supported metal oxides catalysts for converting the fast pyrolysis oil into advanced drop-in hydrocarbon liquid fuels by HDO. Some novel inexpensive catalysts such as Mo/C, Mo/Al2O3 and Mo/MgAl2O4catalysts with and without phosphorus as a catalyst promoter were prepared by incipient wetness impregnation method. The HDO activity of those catalysts were compared against commercial Ru/C catalyst in a 100 mL bench-scale reactor system using a wood-derived pyrolysis oil at the temperatures of 250-400 °C and initial hydrogen pressure of 5 MPa.

(13) Shima Ahmadi (MESc student)

Title: Development of Nano-structured Catalysts for the Production of Green Diesel Fuel from Bio-oil via Hydrotreatment

Description: As liquid products from the fast pyrolysis and hydrothermal liquefaction of biomass, bio-oils/bio-crude oils have a great potential use as advanced biofuels after upgrading to reduce their high instability, viscosity, corrosiveness, and oxygen content. Hydro-deoxygenation (HDO) process is a promising route to upgrade bio-oils for producing liquid transportation fuels. In this process, bonds of C=C, C=O and aromatic rings are saturated while oxygen is removed in presence of H2 and a catalyst. This process is attractive due to high carbon efficiency and technology compatibility with existing petroleum hydro-treating technology. The main objective of this project was to upgrade bio-crude/bio-oil via HDO to produce upgraded bio-oil that would be compatible with the petroleum hydrocarbon feed for co-processing in an existing petroleum refinery for the production advanced bio-fuels. The key tasks of this project were centered on developing a novel HDO process using nano-structured catalysts to upgrade bio-crude/bio-oil into advanced bio-fuels. Some new nano-structured catalysts with high activity and stability (high resistance to coke formation and deactivation) were developed for the HDO process.