Catalytic cracking of pyrolysis oils/vapors offers the opportunity of producing bio-oils which can potentially be coprocessed with petroleum feedstocks in today’s oil refinery to produce transportation fuel and chemicals. Catalyst properties and process conditions are critical in producing and maximizing desired product. In our studies, catalyst matrix (kaolin) and two commercial fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) catalysts, FCC-H and FCC-L, with different Y-zeolite contents were investigated. The catalytic cracking of hybrid poplar wood was conducted in a 5-mm bench-scale bubbling fluidized-bed pyrolysis reactor at 465°C with a weight hourly space velocity of 1.5 h−1. The results showed that the yields and quality of the bio-oils was a function of the Y-zeolite content of the catalyst. The char/coke yield was highest for the higher Y-zeolite catalyst. The organic liquid yields decreased inversely with increase in zeolite content of the catalyst whereas the water and gas yields increased. Analysis of the oils by both Fourier-transform infrared and 13C-nuclear magnetic resonance indicated that the catalyst with higher zeolite content (FCC-H) was efficient in the removal of compounds like levoglucosan, carboxylic acids and the conversion of methoxylated phenols to substituted phenols and benzenediols. The cracking of pyrolysis products by kaolin suggests that the activity of the FCC catalyst on biomass pyrolysis vapors can be attributed to both Y-zeolite and matrix. The FCC-H catalyst produced much more improved oil. The oil was low in oxygen (22.67 wt.%), high in energy (29.79 MJ/kg) and relatively stable over a 12-month storage period.
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