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Hydrothermal Processing of Biomass and Organic Waste to Produce Fuel and Value-added Products

   Faculty of Engineering and Informatics

About the Project

In the past decades, an excessive use of fossil fuels due to the steady increase in World’s energy demand had a significant impact on the environment. This highlights the importance of studying alternatives to fossil fuel sources and the development of technologies to obtain cleaner fuels from renewable sources.

In this context, biomass, and organic waste are attractive feedstocks for energy applications due to their vast availability, renewable nature, and social implications. These can be transformed into bio-oil through hydrothermal liquefaction. The technology has the advantage over other thermochemical processes that can process wet biomass without the need of an energy intensive pre-drying step. The process is performed in a wide range of operating conditions, which have a great impact in the final product distribution (gas, bio-oil, biochar, and aqueous soluble organic products).

Apart from bio-oil, other products of commercial interest are obtained. The recovery of these products as well as an in-depth plant design are key to the viability of the technology. This project will focus on approaching some of the greatest challenges of hydrothermal technology, such as its energy intensive nature and the lack of selectivity in the product mix.

This work will require some experimental and process simulation approach to explore the effect that changes in process parameters, the nature of the feedstock, inclusion of catalysts to increase yield and selectivity and renewable heating sources have on the performance of the technology. The successful applicant will be passionate about research in the field of renewable energy. Students with a background in chemical engineering or closely related are encouraged to apply.

Funding Notes

This is a self-funded PhD project; applicants will be expected to pay their own fees or have a suitable source of third-party funding. A bench fee may also apply to this project, in addition to the tuition fees. UK students may be able to apply for a Doctoral Loan from Student Finance for financial support.


Ayala-Cortés A, Arcelus-Arrillaga P, Millan M, Okoye PU, Arancibia-Bulnes CA, Pacheco-Catalán DE, et al. Solar hydrothermal processing of agave bagasse: Insights on the effect of operational parameters. Renew Energy. 2022 Jun 1;192:14–23. Ayala-Cortés A, Arcelus-Arrillaga P, Pacheco-Catalán DE, Arancibia-Bulnes CA, Villafán-Vidales HI. Solar hydrothermal liquefaction: Effect of the operational parameters on the fuels. MRS Adv. 2022 Feb 1;7(2):24–7. Remón J, Ravaglio-Pasquini F, Pedraza-Segura L, Arcelus-Arrillaga P, Suelves I, Pinilla JL. Caffeinating the biofuels market: Effect of the processing conditions during the production of biofuels and high-value chemicals by hydrothermal treatment of residual coffee pulp. J Clean Prod. 2021 Jun 15;302:127008. Ayala-Cortés A, Arcelus-Arrillaga P, Millan M, Arancibia-Bulnes CA, Valadés-Pelayo PJ, Villafán-Vidales HI. Solar integrated hydrothermal processes: A review. Renew Sustain Energy Rev. 2021 Apr 1;139:110575.

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