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Seminar: Charles M. Cai, University of California, Riverside

Title: "Multifunctional cosolvents enhances biomass deconstruction and transformation into renewable fuels and materials."

Charles M. Cai is Assistant Research Engineer and Assistant Adjunct Professor at the Center for Environmental Research & Technology (CE-CERT) in the Department of Chemical & Environmental Engineering at the Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California Riverside.

New approaches that combine molecular dynamics simulations with experimental characterization highlight the important role of cosolvents and their influence on molecular processes relevant to overcoming the natural recalcitrance of lignocellulose. From localized phase behavior on cellulose fibers to changes in lignin conformation, insights into cosolvent effects on biomass deconstruction involve understanding complex interactions between the solvent–solvent, solvent–substrate, and solvent–catalyst. Recently coordinated research efforts at multiple scales using computational tools, nano-scale imaging, and kinetic models have significantly advanced identification of high-performance cosolvents, shedding light on the mechanisms behind solvent-biomass interactions. Specifically, multifunctional cosolvents have been employed in leading biomass “solvolysis” technologies that favorably coordinate with dilute acids to solubilize and depolymerize all three primary biomass fractions of biomass: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. As a result, recent work in studying solvent effects of multifunctional cosolvents has led to a paradigm shift toward the use of first principles to design biomass deconstruction techniques with the aim of maximizing total carbon utilization in biomass. The synergistic pairing of cosolvents with biomass deconstruction will lead scientists and engineers to overcome key technical and economic barriers of biomass processing, enabling a successful transition of the current energy landscape toward a future bioeconomy based on biomass as an alternative to petroleum.

Cai is an Assistant Research Engineer and Adjunct Professor at UC Riverside. He is also Co-Founder and acting CTO of MG Fuels, a bioenergy company. His primary research focuses on the biological and catalytic conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to fuels and chemicals. He is responsible for developing the Co-solvent Enhanced Lignocellulosic Fractionation (CELF) process, a promising solvolysis pretreatment method that promises to improve sugar and lignin utilization from biomass at lower process costs. In 2017, he was listed in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Energy. He received his PhD in Chemical and Environmental Engineering at UC Riverside and his BS in Biochemical Engineering at UC Davis.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019 at 4:00pm to 5:00pm

Dougherty Engineering Building, 416
1512 Middle Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996

Event Type

Lectures & Presentations




Current Students, Faculty & Staff, General Public


CBE Seminar, CBE Fall 2019

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
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