Mahdi Abu-Omar’s high-octane fuel and artificial vanilla flavoring share one thing in common: they both were developed fromwastewood.
Leading a team of researchers at Purdue University, Abu-Omar, a chemist and chemical engineer, recently developed a new method of catalytic conversion to turn lignin, which makes up a plant’s cell walls and serves as support beams that hold the plant upright and carry its water, into products that can either fuel your car or flavor your cupcake.
Before this innovation, Abu-Omar said lignin’s only value was that this resulting biomass could be burned for heat as a byproduct of processing ethanol from cellulose.
“If you’re to think about making the next generation biofuels from biomass, you want to utilize as much as you can from the biomass,” he said. “It’s a technology that allows us to be more efficient and more sustainable while adding values.”
Abu-Omar’s work at Purdue’s Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels did just that, developing a more efficient process to generate an alternative fuel source. But that wasn’t all they did.