Biomass Valorization

Using biomass as a feedstock of renewable contemporary carbon for the chemical industry


The vast majoriy of carbon-based commodity chemicals and precursors for the chemical industry currently comes from the refinery of fossil petroleum resources. This contributes to the high carbon footprint of the chemical industry. One attractive path forward for the decarbonation of this industry is the use of biomass, the largest source of contemporary carbon, as renewable feedstock.

Moreover, the valorisation of biomass compounds by electrocatalysis presents several advantages:

(i) It can be performed under ambient conditions of pressure and temperature

(ii) It can be directly powered by renewable electricity

(iii) It relies on water as a source of protons and oxygen rather than molecular H2 and O2

As such, the formulation of active and selective electrocatalysts for the conversion of biomass-derived compounds has attracted increasing attention over the past years in the context of the development of the concept of biorefineries, in which lignocellulose is converted to fuels and drop-in commodity chemicals.


Our research is concerned with the development of electrocatalysts based on non-critical earth-abundant materials capable of converting selected biomass-derived platform compounds to value-added molecules with high activity, durability and selectivity.

Our setup consists in a two-compartement electrolysis cell connected to a cold trap and a micro-GC for in-line product analysis

Figure 1. Three-electrode electrolysis setup for the conversion of biomass-derived molecules


  • MEGOPE (2023-2027) - ANR PRC

This project focuses on the development of operando mass-spectroscopy techniques for the monitoring of electrocatalytic biomass conversion, in order to apply earth-abundant electrocatalysts to the efficient electrochemical valorisation of complex mixtures stemming from the depolymerisation of lignocellulose.

  • SOLBIOCHEM (2020-2022) - MSCA Fellowship

In the framework of this action, we developed micro-structured copper electrodes capable of selectively converting biomass-derived furfural into furfuryl alcohol or methylfuran, at low overpotential with high activity. The selectivity can simply be switched by adjusting the pH of the electrolyte. This study shows that catalyst structuring is key to improve performance, and can reduce overpotential by several hundreds of millivolts while improving current densities by one order of magnitude.

The SOLBIOCHEM project lead to the manufacturing of micro-structured copper cathodes with performance improving over the state-of-the-art reported in the literature at the time of the project.

Key results:

a) and b) Electron microscopy images of the structured copper electrodes. c) Comparison of a cyclic voltammetry on a structured Cu electrode and Cu foil in the presence and absence of furfural (FAL) at ph 6.5 (phosphate buffer) d) Conversion curve of furfural (FAL) to furfuryl alcohol (FOH) over time in pH 6.5 electrolyte e) Comparison of a cyclic voltammetry on a structured Cu electrode and Cu foil in the presence and absence of furfural (FAL) at ph 2 (1M H3PO4). f) Conversion curve of furfural (FAL) to furfuryl alcohol (FOH) and 2-methylfuran (2-MF) over time in pH 6.5 electrolyte