Development of Photocatalytic Reactor Technology for the Production of Fermentable Sugars

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Rapid depletion of fossil fuel stock with a simultaneous rise in greenhouse gas emissions has led to an increase in the need for alternative energy. Cellulose based biofuels, especially bioethanol is a form of alternative energy that has the potential to replace petrol. The first step in cellulosic bioethanol production is the release of fermentable sugars via pre-treatment. Conventionally, physico-chemical and biological pre-treatment methods are energy intensive, environmentally unfavourable and expensive. This study, however reports on the use of a less energy consuming, cheap and environmental friendly alternative; photocatalysis, to produce fermentable sugars from cellulose. To achieve this, a range of photocatalysts were first screened based on their OH radical production rates using coumarin as a probe. TiO2 P25 was the photocatalyst that was found to have the highest OH radical production rate of 35.6 μM/hr, followed by Pt-C3N4 (0.88 μM/hr) and WO3 (0.28 μM/hr). LaCr-SrTiO3, Cr-SrTiO3 and yellow TiO2 did not produce any OH radicals due to their unsuitable electronic structure. P25 was further used for photocatalytic fermentable sugar production from cellulose. Photocatalytic cellulose I breakdown produced 0.04 % fermentable sugars whereas, with cellulose II feedstock the yield increased to 0.2 %. To further improve the yield, membrane bags were deployed which improved the sugar yields to 0.43 % and 0.71 % respectively from cellulose and cellulose II feedstocks. Photonic efficiencies followed the same trends as the sugar yields. Engineering design was further opted to enhance the sugar yields and hence a stacked frame photocatalytic reactor (SFPR) was designed. Various mixer
configurations were designed and their mixing regime was determined using COMSOL Multiphysics 5.1 simulations. Amongst the mixers simulated, an 8-blade Rushton impeller was found to be the best configuration due its superior radial mixing profile and higher fluid velocity. The SFPR was then fabricated and operated with the impeller or a plus shaped magnetic bar as the mixer and the sugar yields were determined. Highest sugar yield and photonic efficiency was obtained from the cellulose II-impeller setup and was calculated to be 2.61 % and 9.45 % respectively. Respective lowest yields were obtained with cellulose I-stirrer bar setup and calculated to be 1.71 % and 5.64 %. Furthermore, the effect of H2O2 on fermentable sugar production was also tested. The cellulose II-stirrer bar configuration yielded 3.15 % fermentable sugars with the addition of 0.01 wt% H2O2 to the reaction mixture. The yield improved significantly to 14.1 % when the concentration of H2O2 was increased to 0.1 wt%.
Date of AwardFeb 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPeter Robertson (Supervisor) & Amilra De Silva (Supervisor)


  • Photocatalysis, fermentable sugars, cellulose II, reactor design, simulation

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