Concurrent transformation of wood into commodity chemicals


The aim of the project was to transform woody biomass into a variety of chemical substances. The main approach involved the development of highly effective nanocatalysts and the use of multifunctional catalytic systems.

Project description (complete research project)

Presently, very few compounds of commercial interest are directly accessible from woody biomass using non-fermentive processes. Despite much progress on the catalytic transformation of woody biomass in the past decade, the situation necessitates the development of a new strategy for wood transformation. This research group is among the pioneers in establishing novel conversions of cellulose and lignin, the key components in woody biomass. In the past few years they have reported novel nanoparticle catalysts and multifunctional catalytic systems tailor-designed for the effective and selective degradation of these compounds. In this project, they intend to develop processes that meet commercial expectations.


We produce enormous quantities of wood waste that are either dumped in landfills or incinerated. Transforming this waste into chemicals at a bio-refinery would offer an interesting solution in terms of waste disposal and the substitution of numerous materials that have been produced on a petrochemical basis up until now.


The researchers devised a novel strategy for transforming lignocellulose into a variety of chemicals and fuels. They pursued a two-pronged approach: the design and preparation of catalysts as well as the optimisation of the processes. The first approach involves conceiving stable, selective and active nanocatalysts and developing high-performance, multi-functional catalysis. The second approach aims to improve our understanding of reactions and subsequent conversions as well as to identify suitable end products.


The researchers describe a strategy for the concurrent transformation of wood into a variety of chemicals under non-aggressive conditions. This strategy holds the potential to turn wood into a raw material for both chemical and fuel applications. The team is planning to develop highly efficient catalytic systems that will allow the process to be transferred to the pilot plant scale at relatively low cost.


The researchers succeeded in developing a new ionic catalyst which facilitates significantly higher yields of the important platform chemical HMF.

Original title

Concurrent transformation of wood into commodity chemicals

Project leader

  • Prof. Paul Dyson, Institut des sciences et ingénierie chimiques, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
  • Dr. Ning Yan, Institut des sciences et ingénierie chimiques, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne



Further information on this content


Prof. Paul Dyson EPF Lausanne
BCH 2402 (Bâtiment de chimie UNIL) 1015 Lausanne +41 21 693 98 54