Degree Name



Chemical Engineering


Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology

Defense Date


Publication Date


First Faculty Advisor

Larry Baxter

First Faculty Reader

Andrew Fry

Honors Coordinator

Dean Wheeler


Pyrolysis, Empower, Malawi, Oil, bio oil, pyrolysis apparatus


Biomass contributes to several renewable energy technologies. This project will explore the use of fast pyrolysis to produce fuels by designing an apparatus for fast pyrolysis. Malawian people harvest firewood from the forests, which is a major contributor to deforestation. Furthermore, they convert some of it to charcoal with about 10-15% efficiency to sell to city dwellers. The project will enable herbaceous fuels to replace wood, increase charcoal yields and create new products. Firewood and charcoal produce smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) that compromises the villagers’ health.

This project will address deforestation problems, improve sustainability, decrease health hazards and improve the local economy. This project will increase the yield by a process called pyrolysis. Fast pyrolysis produces bio-oil in addition to charcoal from biomass. This investigates ways that fast pyrolysis can be implemented, using cornstover or any other accessible biomass. A prototype fast-pyrolysis experiment was designed that will be replicable in environments like the villages of Malawi. Prior experiments indicate that corn stalk can form bio-oil with up to 60% yield under laboratory conditions (Pittman 8). We will explore ways of doing this under Malawian village conditions.

The research is relevant because it will help improve the energy yield from biomass, decrease deforestation, decrease health effects from using wood, and improve the village economy. The fast-pyrolysis process produces pyrolysis oil that that can be used as a fuel or sold. It also produces charcoal that can be substituted for wood charcoal or can be used to reintroduce carbon nutrients back in the soil. The project addresses whether fast-pyrolysis process could be implemented specifically in Malawi, how that oil could be used for the benefit of the people, and if this solution can be extended to other subsistence farmer cultures.