Dr. Sc. Eng. Aivars Žūriņš is a leading researcher at the Biorefinery Laboratory of the Latvian State Institute of Wood Chemistry. The main research field is biorefining based on pyrolysis, which enables the thermal depolymerisation and conversion of wood components into chemicals, fuels and materials. The work has been published in 28 scientific articles (Scopus) and 12 patents.
The future of the Latvian national economy lies in a biobased regulation, relying on its strongest fields – agriculture and forestry. Implementation of a biorefinery concept means that all of the components of wood are conversed into chemicals, fuels and materials. In this process extractives are obtained from the bark, hemicelluloses are separated as C5 sugars or their conversion products, and the residual lignocellulose is pyrolysed. The primary product of the thermochemical conversion of lignocellulose is an anhydrosugar levoglucosan, which can be used as a feedstock for the synthesis of polymers or pharmaceuticals, or it can be turned into bioethanol via transformation into glucose.
On the other hand, if acid catalysts are used, lignocellulose can be processed into another anhydrosugar levoglucosenone, which can be used for the synthesis of stereospecific organic pharmaceuticals. The residue of the pyrolysis process is char with a low content of minerals, which – according to our research – can be used to produce activated carbon supercondensator electrodes, or by introducing heteroatoms such as nitrogen into the structure of the activated carbon it is possible to obtain a catalytic material, which can replace platinum in low temperature fuel cells and successfully compete with doped carbon nanotubes.