Master assignments

Microfluidic device for photocatalytic aqueous phase reforming of biomass


Not only is energy from fossil fuels harmful to the environment, but the supply is also in rapid decline. By 2035, only 7.2% of the global energy consumption expected to come from renewable sources.[1] Therefore, research into new, renewable energy sources and their production methods is urgently needed.

A clean, alternative fuel is hydrogen, which can be produced from biomass.[2]  Currently, the reforming of biomass still requires extremely harsh conditions in terms of temperature and pressure, while a more environmental friendly approach would use light as an external energy source. Specifically, in presence of a semiconductor catalyst, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen in a redox reaction, in which biomass acts as a sacrificial oxidant.[3]

Microfluidics is an excellent format to conduct such photocatalytic reforming of biomass since miniaturization brings about a number of advantages associated with the higher surface-to-volume ratio; enhanced mass and heat transport, more homogeneous light distribution in the microchannel, homogeneous reaction mixture and a relatively larger amount of catalyst is deposited on the walls, which should altogether result in overall higher process efficiency.[4] 


The overall goal of this project is to develop a microfluidic platform for the photocatalytic aqueous phase reforming using biomass as a feedstock. Firstly, the right semiconductor catalyst will be chosen and subsequently synthesized and optimized. Next, an optomicrofluidic microreactor will be designed and fabricated for the photocatalytic aqueous phase reforming of biomass for hydrogen production. As a starting point for this step, the system designed by Meng et al [5], which is based on nanofibers sealed between a glass plate and a PDMS chip, could be considered. The resulting microreactor will be first tested with a biomass model compound and optimized for conversion, yield and hydrogen selectivity. Next, the performance of this microfluidic and photocatalytic approach will be compared to that of the conventional thermochemical reforming of biomass to validate the potential of this new production method as an alternative, cleaner route towards renewable hydrogen production from biomass.

 This project is part of the Multiscale Catalytic Energy Conversion consortium (MCEC), where catalytic processes for renewable energy conversion are studied on multiple scales from a multidisciplinary perspective.[6]


The student must have a background in Chemical Engineering or in Nanotechnology with a good understanding of chemistry. 


  1. BP Energy Outlook 2035, February 2015
  2. R.R Davda, J.W. Shabaker, G.W. Huber, R.D. Cortright, J.A. Dumesic Appl. Catal. B. Environ. 2005  (56) pp. 171-186
  3. M. de Oliveira Melo, L.A. Silva J. Braz. Chem. Soc 2011 (22) 8 pp. 1399-1406
  4. H. Löwe, W.Erhfeld Electrochimica Acta 1999 (44) pp. 3679-3689
  5. Z. Meng, Z. Zhang, J. Qin Nanoscale 2013 (5) pp. 4687-4690


Renée Ripken, PhD student, r.m.ripken
Dr. Ir. Séverine. Le Gac, s.legac
Prof. Dr. Han. Gardeniers, j.g.e.gardeniers