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Bioresource Technology 107 (2012) 476–481

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Application of the distributed activation energy model to the kinetic study

of pyrolysis of the fresh water algae Chlorococcum humicola
Kawnish Kirtania, Sankar Bhattacharya ⇑
Department of Chemical Engineering, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Apart from capturing carbon dioxide, fresh water algae can be used to produce biofuel. To assess the
Received 9 September 2011 energy potential of Chlorococcum humicola, the alga’s pyrolytic behavior was studied at heating rates of
Received in revised form 12 December 2011 5–20 K/min in a thermobalance. To model the weight loss characteristics, an algorithm was developed
Accepted 16 December 2011
based on the distributed activation energy model and applied to experimental data to extract the kinetics
Available online 24 December 2011
of the decomposition process. When the kinetic parameters estimated by this method were applied to
another set of experimental data which were not used to estimate the parameters, the model was capable
of predicting the pyrolysis behavior, in the new set of data with a R2 value of 0.999479. The slow weight
Fresh water algae
Chlorococcum humicola
loss, that took place at the end of the pyrolysis process, was also accounted for by the proposed algorithm
Pyrolysis which is capable of predicting the pyrolysis kinetics of C. humicola at different heating rates.
Kinetics Crown Copyright Ó 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction Wjtowicz et al. (2003) applied the DAEM to biomass pyrolysis suc-
cessfully. Logistic distribution of activation energy was assumed
Since some algae have a high oil content, they can be used to and validated for cellulose pyrolysis by Cai et al. (2011) with nth
produce biodiesel (Demirbas, 2011); however, the separation of order DAEM; however, the complex pyrolysis behavior of fresh
lipids from the algae is difficult and energy intensive (Pimentel, water algae has not yet been modeled with the distributed activa-
2008). Instead of oil extraction, algae can be gasified to produce tion energy model. For the present study, the blue–green algae,
oil and gas (Tang et al., 2011; Bruhn et al., 2011). Pyrolysis is Chlorococcum humicola, was selected for pyrolytic and kinetic
the first step in the combustion or gasification process. The pyro- examination because it produces a high amount of biomass and lip-
lytic behavior and kinetics of three kinds of red algae were inves- ids (Chaichalerm et al., 2011). Thermogravimetric experiments
tigated by Li et al. (2011), and it became evident that their were performed at different heating rates to understand the pyro-
pyrolysis behavior was more complicated than that of fossil fuels. lytic behavior of the algae. Thereafter, a new algorithm for deter-
The authors estimated the activation energy for those three algae mining the kinetic parameters of DAEM was developed and the
by the Flynn–Wall–Ozawa (FWO) (Flynn and Wall, 1966; Ozawa, new algorithm for DAEM was validated with experimental data.
1965), KAS (Kissinger, 1957) and Popescu (Popescu, 1996) meth-
ods. Brown algae pyrolysis at different conditions was investi- 2. Methods
gated by Ross et al. (2009) and Anastasakis et al. (2011). For
extracting kinetic parameters, Anastasakis et al. (2011) used the 2.1. Pyrolysis experiments
methods of Weber (2008) and Saddawi et al. (2010). Pyrolysis
characteristics of blue–green algae with coal were studied by C. humicola biomass was grown in the Bio Engineering
Yuan et al. (2011) without any kinetic parameter estimation. Laboratory, Department of Chemical Engineering, Monash Univer-
Due to the availability of high performance computing, the dis- sity as described by Harun and Danquah (2011). The strain was
tributed activated energy model (DAEM) is widely used for differ- cultured in 100-L bag photobioreactors outdoors and kept under
ent kinds of solid and liquid fuels. Miura and Maki (1998) and semi-continuous conditions by 20% (v/v) dilution with fresh med-
Scott et al. (2006) modified the DAEM so that no assumptions ium after harvesting an equal volume of culture on a daily basis.
for the form of the activation energy distribution are required. The medium consists of potassium nitrate, KNO3 (150 g/L, MW
Navarro et al. (2008), Sonobe and Worasuwannarak (2008) and 101.11, 99.5%), sodium phosphate monobasic, NaH2PO4 (11.3 g/L,
MW 119.98, 99.5%), manganese chloride, MnCl2 (360.0 mg/L, MW
⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +61 3 9905 9623; fax: +61 3 99055686. 125.84, 98.0%), zinc sulfate, ZnSO4 (44.0 mg/L, MW 161.47, 99.5%),
E-mail address: (S. Bhattacharya). cobalt nitrate, Co(NO3)2 (22.0 mg/L, MW 182.94, 97.5%), copper

0960-8524/$ - see front matter Crown Copyright Ó 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
K. Kirtania, S. Bhattacharya / Bioresource Technology 107 (2012) 476–481 477

sulfate, CuSO4 (19.6 mg/L, MW 159.61, 98.5%), sodium molybdite, ( "  #)ð1n
k0 RT 2 E
Na2MoO42H2O (12.6 mg/L, MW 241.95, 98.0%), sodium ZðE; TÞ ¼ 1 þ ð1  nÞ  exp  ð6Þ
metasilicate, Na2SiO3 (22.7 g/L, MW 122.06, 99.7%), iron(III) citrate,
C6H5O7Fe3H2O (9.0 g/L, MW 298.99, 98%), and citric acid monohydrate,
This asymptotic approximation provides similar results to the ac-
COOHCH2C(OH)COOHCH2COOHH2O (9.0 g/L, MW 210.14, 99.5%).
tual one. Now, assuming k0 is independent of temperature, Z(E,T)
The ultimate analysis was performed with a CHNS/O analyzer
can be written as:
(Model 2400, Perkin-Elmer, USA). To determine carbon, hydrogen,
nitrogen and sulfur, the samples were combusted at 975 °C to obtain RT 2 E
ZðE; TÞ ¼ f1 þ ð1  nÞk0 nðE; TÞgð1nÞ where nðE;TÞ ¼ 

CO2, H2O, N2 and SO2 and analyzed through a chromatographic col- exp 
umn. The system detects the gases by thermal conductivity and di-
rectly gives the concentration of C, H, N, S in percent by comparing
with the standard values. Ash content was determined by combust- As n(E,T) is defined now, it is important to understand that the tem-
ing the alga sample at 800 °C. As the concentration of other materials perature integral is evaluated at each value of decomposition. So for
are in ppm range, the oxygen concentration was calculated by differ- each value of activation energy, the n(Ei,T) can be evaluated to form
ence. The pyrolysis behavior was studied in a thermobalance (Model a matrix. This matrix is formulated as:
STA 449 F3 JupiterÒ, NETZSCH-Gerätebau GmbH, Germany). The 2 3
nðE1 ; T 1 Þ nðE2 ; T 1 Þ    nðEL ; T F Þ
alga was dried in an oven for at least 12 h at 105 °C, ground to a size 6 7
of 106–150 lm using a hand mortar. The pyrolysis was done in non- 6 nðE1 ; T 2 Þ nðE2 ; T 2 Þ    nðEL ; T F Þ 7
6 7
isothermal condition and the temperature was ramped to 1100 °C at n ¼ 6 nðE1 ; T 3 Þ nðE2 ; T 3 Þ    nðEL ; T F Þ 7
7 ð8Þ
heating of 5, 10, and 20 K/min with one repeat for estimating the 6 7
4     5
kinetic parameters and model validation. nðE1 ; T F Þ nðE2 ; T F Þ    nðEL ; T F Þ
2.2. Kinetic modeling This matrix implies that Eq. (2) can be expressed in an equivalent
matrix which is possible to evaluate using any mathematical pack-
A Gaussian distribution based distributed activation energy mod- age. So the integrated matrix form of the mass loss equation
el (DAEM) was developed to analyze the pyrolysis kinetics and the becomes:
‘end loss’ of the algae. Usually the distributed activation energy 2 3 8 2 39ð1n
1 Þ2 3
model has a general form for several parallel first order reactions: wðT 1 Þ > > nðE1 ;T 1 Þ nðE2 ;T 1 Þ nðEL ;T F Þ > > f ðE1 Þ
Z  Z t  Z 6 7 >
> 6 7>
> 6 7
w 1 1 6wðT 2 Þ7 > > 6nðE1 ;T 2 Þ nðE2 ;T 2 Þ nðEL ;T F Þ7> > 6f ðE2 Þ7
¼ exp k0
eRT dt f ðEÞdE where f ðEÞdE ¼ 1 ð1Þ 16 7 < 6 7= 6 7
6wðT 3 Þ7 ¼ 1þð1nÞk0 6nðE1 ;T 3 Þ nðE2 ;T 3 Þ nðEL ;T F Þ7 6f ðE3 Þ7 ð9Þ
w 0 0 0 w 6
7 >
7 >
4 >
5 > 4     5> > 4 5
> >
where w is the weight of volatile content remaining and w⁄ is the : ;
wðT F Þ nðE1 ;T F Þ nðE2 ;T F Þ  nðEL ;T F Þ f ðEL Þ
total volatile content. k0 is the pre-exponential factor and f(E)dE is
the distribution that characterizes the activation energy. To model w
¼ f1 þ ð1  nÞk0 ngð1nÞ f

the slow weight loss that happens after the rapid loss in case of ð10Þ
the microalgae, the nth order model is selected over the exponential
Here, T1 and TF represent the values of minimum temperature and
model stated above. The nth order model with distributed activa-
maximum temperature, respectively in an experiment. Though only
tion energy can be expressed as follows:
k0 and n can be seen from Eq. (10), mE and r are the other two
Z 1 Z   ð1nÞ
w E parameters implicit in activation energy distribution vector, f.
¼ 1 þ ð1  nÞ k0 exp  dt f ðEÞdE where n – 1
w 0 0 RT Now from Eq. (10), it is possible to form an objective function which
ð2Þ can be optimized to estimate those four parameters.
The objective function is defined by the difference between the
As the distribution is assumed to be Gaussian for this model, it can
experimental and the model predicted data:
be expressed as:
( !) j¼F  2
Z 1 Z 
 ð1n Þ X
w t
E 1 ðE  mEÞ2 wj ðexpÞ wj ðestÞ
¼ 1 þ ð1  nÞ k0 exp  dt pffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi exp  dE O:F: ¼  ð11Þ
w 0 0 RT 2pr2 2r 2
w w
The wj(exp) and wj(est) denotes the experimental and estimated
where mE is the mean activation energy and r is the standard deviation weight, respectively and i denotes the corresponding temperature.
of distribution. In this case it is assumed that the distribution remains To minimize the objective function, the algorithm checks every
the same for the whole pyrolysis process. To develop the algorithm, the possible values of mass fraction within the given activation energy
equation has been represented by multiplication of two functions: and temperature range. As there are four unknown parameters to
Z 1
w be evaluated, a new minimization algorithm has been used. The
¼ ZðE; tÞf ðEÞdE ð4Þ
w 0 algorithm is known as Multistart. Unlike other algorithms such as
where Z(E,t) contains the pre-exponential factor, k0 and the order n. direct search, pattern search or genetic algorithm, it tries multiple
The Z(E,t) varies with the time and activation energy. If the heating starting points for global optimization. The Global Optimization
rate is a K/min, the Z(E,T) can be equated to: Toolbox of Matlab with parallel computing facility was used to
 Z T   ð1n
Þ accelerate computing speed. The curve fitting method for the
k0 E Multistart object was selected to be lsqcurvefit based on the least
ZðE; TÞ ¼ 1 þ ð1  nÞ exp  dT where T ¼ T 0 þ at ð5Þ
a RT
0 square method. The code was generated in Matlab and a custom-
This limit for the integration is valid as the value of T0 can be ized number of starting points for parameter estimation was used.
selected low enough where no reaction occurs (Miura, 1995). To Since activation energies for algae were reported in the literature
simplify the calculation, the exponential integral in Z(E,T) is evalu- as 60 kJ/mol and 322 kJ/mol (Li et al., 2011; Tang et al., 2011). The
ated by asymptotic approximation when E/R ? 1 (Burnham and expected range of activation energy was selected from 10 kJ/mol
Braun, 1999): to 500 kJ/mol) to form the matrix n and the energy distribution
vector f. The temperature range was selected as required for
478 K. Kirtania, S. Bhattacharya / Bioresource Technology 107 (2012) 476–481

Table 1 5 and 10 K/min were analyzed and used to generate parameters for
Ultimate analysis of the fresh water alga, C. humicola (%db). the model.
C H N S O Ash The model parameters estimated from the algorithm were used
33.16% 5.58% 4.8% 2.42% 27.24% 26.8%
to generate a weight loss curve which is compared with the
experimental one by the fitness parameter. The fit between the
experimental and estimated data can be found out by the fitness
completion of pyrolysis. By defining the ranges of activation energy parameter stated below:
and temperature, the two most important vectors were defined for Pj¼F wjðexpÞ 
wjðestÞ 2
the model. To avoid multiplicity of estimated parameters (Lakshma- j¼1 w
R2 ¼ 1  ð12Þ
nan et al., 1991) decomposition data at two different heating rates, Pj¼F wjðexpÞ 2
j¼1 w

Fig. 1. Pyrolysis behavior of C. humicola at different heating rates.

Fig. 2. Rate of weight loss of C. humicola at different heating rates.

K. Kirtania, S. Bhattacharya / Bioresource Technology 107 (2012) 476–481 479



Fig. 3. Comparison of experimental and estimated data from the proposed algorithm at different heating rates.

Table 2 3. Results and discussion

Estimated model parameters at different heating rates.

Rate (K/min) mE (kJ/mol) r k0 (s1) n R2 3.1. Ultimate analysis

5 189.15 14.73 1.1291  1016 7.88 0.999354
10 190.02 14.73 2.6021  1016 6.63 0.999569 The ultimate analysis was performed on the algae to observe
the amount of its elemental constituents. The results are shown
in Table 1. In the ultimate analysis, the alga was found to have a
carbon content of 33% by weight on dry basis. Also the ash content
The closer the value of R2 to 1, the better is the fit. The next step
was very high for the algae.
of the validation continued with testing the estimated model
parameters over a new pyrolysis experiment performed at 20 K/ 3.2. Pyrolysis
min. This data was not used for any model parameter generation.
The raw data from the experiment was compared with the pyroly- The pyrolysis characteristics of the alga at different rates are
sis curve generated from the generalized model parameters from shown in Fig. 1. It was found from the experiments that the
previous data. pyrolysis of fresh water alga was complete by 550 °C. As it is a kind
480 K. Kirtania, S. Bhattacharya / Bioresource Technology 107 (2012) 476–481

Fig. 4. Distribution of activation energy at various heating rates during pyrolysis of C. humicola.

Fig. 5. Comparison of experimental and predicted weight loss data by the proposed algorithm.

of biomass, early devolatilization occurs. There was a rapid loss of rate curves were also observed during the pyrolysis of three kinds
its weight which slowed down after 500 °C. The rate curves (Deriv- of red algae by Li et al. (2011). This indicates that the dominating
ative of Thermogravimetric curve) of algae pyrolysis in Fig. 2 reactions changed after the rate change. Anastasakis et al. (2011)
showed the two steps in the rate curve during pyrolysis of algae. studied the pyrolysis behavior of four main components of algae
It can be seen that pyrolysis started around 200 °C and the rapid and found that they decomposed at different temperatures.
part of pyrolysis ended at about 365 °C and then the step com- After 525 °C, the weight loss continued at a reduced rate up to
pleted at around 525 °C. The same behavior was observed for all 850 °C. This tail at the end of the pyrolysis accounted for about
the heating rates. The rate curves were consistent in the sense that 5.2% of the total weight loss which was a significant percentage
the rates increased between 200 °C and 525 °C with increasing the of total volatile content of the alga. This can be denoted as ‘end
heating rate. This rate increase was proportional to the increase in loss’ for algae pyrolysis. Including the ‘end loss’, the total weight
heating rate. Also two steps were found in each rate curve. Similar loss for C. humicola was found to be 55.6%.
K. Kirtania, S. Bhattacharya / Bioresource Technology 107 (2012) 476–481 481

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A comparison of model predicted and experimental data at distributed activation energy model. Energy and Fuels 12, 864–869.
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pyrolysis behaviour of brown algae before and after pre-treatment using py-gc/
Pyrolysis behavior of a fresh water alga has been investigated at ms and tga. Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 85 (1–2), 3–10.
Saddawi, A., Jones, J.M., Williams, A., Wjtowicz, M.A., 2010. Kinetics of the thermal
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Tang, Y.T., Ma, X.Q., Lai, Z.Y., 2011. Thermogravimetric analysis of the combustion of
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