In this installment of a 13-part series, The Combustion Institute recognizes the 2019 Distinguished Papers selected from among the scientific papers presented during the 37th International Symposium on Combustion. Congratulations to Karla Dussan, Stephen Dooley, and Rory F.D. Monaghan for winning the Distinguished Paper Award in the Solid Fuels Colloquium.

Their winning paper, A model of the chemical composition and pyrolysis kinetics of lignin, advances the understanding of how one of the biggest components of plant matter, lignin, can be converted to useful chemicals and energy by pyrolysis (from Greek, meaning “fire-separating”). For the past hundred years or so, the world’s energy supply has been met mostly by climate-changing fossil fuels. If we are to move to a climate neutral energy system, society will need to learn how to utilize renewable, carbon-neutral waste plant matter (biomass) as a replacement energy and raw material supply for fossil fuels and petrochemicals.

The team’s paper shows how the products of the thermochemical (heating) reaction of lignin are defined by the chemical structure (atomic arrangement) of the starting lignin raw material. Lignin is a very large and extremely complex polymer – it is the woody component of trees. Knowing its chemical structure in the first place is a huge challenge, and their paper makes a basic demonstration of the use of an advanced magnetic measurement technique (nuclear magnetic resonance) to do this. This paper can serve as sort of “map” for others who wish to understand what products can be made from lignin and why. Ultimately, this would help anyone interested in the pursuit of obtaining energy, fuels, or chemicals from plant matter sources.

The research was conducted in three cities in Ireland – Limerick, Galway, and Dublin, as well as the Netherlands, and involved a lot of thinking, data analysis, and ultimately – chemical and mathematical modelling.

Over 1,600 papers were submitted to the 37th Symposium in 13 combustion science colloquia. Those papers were categorized by teams of colloquium coordinators and co-chairs, and then distributed to approximately 1,000 scientific reviewers. One paper in each discipline was awarded the recognition of Distinguished Paper.

The 13 Distinguished Papers undergo committee review for consideration to receive the Silver Combustion Medalthat will be awarded January 2021 during the38th International Symposium in Adelaide, Australia. A paper selected for this honor exemplifies quality, achievement, and significance to advance a field of combustion science. Distinguished papers are selected biennially from among the scientific papers presented during the International Symposium on Combustion and accepted for publication in theProceedings of The Combustion Institute.