Characterization of Pyrolysis Products from Fast Pyrolysis of Live and Dead Vegetation

Mohammad Saeed Safdari, Brigham Young University


Wildland fire, which includes both planned (prescribed fire) and unplanned (wildfire) fires, is an important component of many ecosystems. Prescribed burning (controlled burning) is used as an effective tool in managing a variety of ecosystems in the United States to reduce accumulation of hazardous fuels, manage wildlife habitats, mimic natural fire occurrence, manage traditional native foods, and provide other ecological and societal benefits. During wildland fires, both live and dead (biomass) plants undergo a two-step thermal degradation process (pyrolysis and combustion) when exposed to high temperatures. Pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of organic material, which does not require the presence of oxygen. Pyrolysis products may later react with oxygen at high temperatures, and form flames in the presence of an ignition source. In order to improve prescribed fire application, accomplish desired fire effects, and limit potential runaway fires, an improved understanding of the fundamental processes related to the pyrolysis and ignition of heterogeneous fuel beds of live and dead plants is needed.In this research, fast pyrolysis of 14 plant species native to the forests of the southern United States has been studied using a flat-flame burner (FFB) apparatus. The results of fast pyrolysis experiments were then compared to the results of slow pyrolysis experiments. The plant species were selected, which represent a range of common plants in the region where the prescribed burning has been performed. The fast pyrolysis experiments were performed on both live and dead (biomass) plants using three heating modes: (1) convection-only, where the FFB apparatus was operated at a high heating rate of 180 °C s-1 (convective heat flux of 100 kW m-2) and a maximum fuel surface temperature of 750 °C; (2) radiation-only, where the plants were pyrolyzed under a moderate heating rate of 4 °C s-1 (radiative heat flux of 50 kW m-2), and (3) a combination of radiation and convection, where the plants were exposed to both convective and radiative heat transfer mechanisms. During the experiments, pyrolysis products were collected and analyzed using a gas chromatograph equipped with a mass spectrometer (GC-MS) for the analysis of tars and a gas chromatograph equipped with a thermal conductivity detector (GC-TCD) for the analysis of light gases.The results showed that pyrolysis temperature, heating rate, and fuel type, have significant impacts on the yields and the compositions of pyrolysis products. These experiments were part of a large project to determine heat release rates and model reactions that occur during slow and fast pyrolysis of live and dead vegetation. Understanding the reactions that occur during pyrolysis then can be used to develop more accurate models, improve the prediction of the conditions of prescribed burning, and improve the prediction of fire propagation.