Welcome to the Thies Research Group
The Thies Research Group focuses on chemical and biomolecular separations where thermodynamics and phase equilibria play a key role. The fractionation and molecular characterization of poorly defined systems with potential applications in materials and energy are of particular interest. An example of such a system is lignin. After cellulose, lignin is the 2nd most abundant organic compound on earth; furthermore, it is the only abundant biopolymer with aromaticity. Nevertheless, today lignin is considered to be a biorefinery by product at best and a waste stream at worst. Thus, the recovery, fractionation, and purification of lignin is a focus of current research.
Technology developed by the Thies group (the “ALPHA” process) is being used to control the molecular weight, chemical functionality, and purity of lignins, with the properties being tailored for each specific application as required. Carbon fibers, activated carbons, hydrogels, and polyurethane foams are but some of the applications where our "ALPHA” lignins have been shown to have unique advantages.
Lignin as a Biofuel
A "liquid" lignin has been discovered that can be used to produce a clean-burning biofuel from a key industrial by-product stream. Greenhouse-gas reductions of millions of tons of carbon dioxide/yr are now possible.
Separation processes are being investigated that can convert the lignin recovered from a dirty by-product stream into an ultrapure product containing less than 100 ppm metals. Such a clean lignin has potential applications as a renewable biopolymer.
The fractionation of carbonaceous oligomers via supercritical extraction has been used to isolate the lowest mol wt liquid-crystalline PAH oligomer ever observed. Advanced-materials applications are anticipated.
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