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Aidan Smith

PhD Project Title: Fate and Influence of Inorganics and Heteroatoms during the Hydrothermal Carbonisation of Biomass


I am a PhD student at the University of Leeds studying though the EPSRC Doctoral Training Centre in Low Carbon Technology working with Dr Andrew Ross’ research group. I joined the University of Leeds in 2013 after working for six years in the mining and minerals sector on a range of environmental science and engineering related issues.

PhD Research

My research looks into a process called hydrothermal carbonisation (HTC). HTC is a process where biologically derived organic material is submerged in water and is heated to moderately high temperature (typically 250 degrees) and subjected to sufficient pressure (greater than 40 bar) to keep the water liquid. In this process the organic material is converted to a coal like product over a period of around 1 hour, essentially simulating natural coalification, but accelerated!

My research specifically focuses on the fate and influence of inorganic (metals such as potassium, calcium etc.) and heteroatoms (chlorine, oxygen, nitrogen etc.) during HTC of biomass. The inorganic and heteroatom chemistry is arguably one of the most important parameters in coal chemistry as they cause issues with corrosion, slagging and fouling when burnt. The energy content of a fuel is arguably less important as a low CV fuel will sell for less, a fuel which slags, fouls and corrodes will not sell or could be subject to severe penalties if burnt. HTC looks to improve both!

Finally while the decomposition mechanisms of biomass components are largely understood, these mechanisms change when in the presence of metals and this has to now been largely overlooked. Consequently my research not only looks at overcoming issues with these inorganics and heteroatoms but also looks to develop fundamental knowledge of the process and utilise these metals and heteroatoms to catalyse a better fuel product.