Wood biomass is a clean alternative to unsustainable petrol-derived materials, fuels and chemicals, but its use is limited as it requires fractionation, a complex and costly separation process. Florence wanted to make this process efficient, so that the sustainable energy source of wood could be used widely.
Florence studied chemistry in Switzerland and then came to Imperial College London to study chemical engineering. She was always passionate about green chemistry and wanted to make a difference with clean energy.
Over 1.6 billion tonnes of waste biomass are available globally in forms such as waste wood, palm residues and wheat and rice straw. Florence’s new method uses low-cost ionic liquids to separate wood components.
Ionic liquids are a type of solvent comprised entirely of ions. Unlike table salt, ionic liquids melt at temperatures below 100°C and some are liquid at and below room temperature. The lower temperatures make a more energy efficient process. These flexible liquids can separate materials into different components, even if the wood is covered in paint or preservatives, which would normally stop it from being recycled or used for fuel.
Florence’s solution uses ionic liquids to turn wood biomass into useful components, cellulose and lignin. These can then be used to make products including papers, films, bio-plastics and adhesives.
Florence is making a difference in how we can make renewable chemicals and fuels.