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May 24th, 2012
Pyromaniacs at UMass Amherst have been on fire lately. In January, George Huber, associate professor of chemical engineering, using non-food biomass, a new catalyst and fast pyrolysis, boosted the yield for five key chemical industry building blocks by 40 percent. Queuing up quickly in February, Paul Dauenhauer, a prolific UMass chemical engineering enfant terrible, announced a breakthrough studying a small surrogate molecule that facilitated biomass pyrolysis computer simulations. Dauenhauer's latest pyrolysis advance (press release), obviously multitasking this winter in the lab: finding an efficient, renewable way to produce the common plastic p-xylene, currently used in many products including soda bottles and food packaging. He says that while the plastics industry currently produces p-xylene from petroleum, his new biomass process creates exactly the same chemical. The research is published in the journal ACS Catalysis. You can mix our renewable chemical with the petroleum-based material and the consumer would not be able to tell the difference," Dauenhauer said in the press release.