is a thermochemical decomposition
of organic material
at elevated temperatures in the absence of oxygen
(or any halogen
). It involves the simultaneous change of chemical composition
and physical phase, and is irreversible. The word is coined from the Greek
"fire" and lysis
Pyrolysis is a type of thermolysis
, and is most commonly observed in organic
materials exposed to high temperatures. It is one of the processes involved in charring
wood, starting at . Burning of wood
, InnoFireWood's website. Accessed on 2010-02-06. It also occurs in fires where solid fuels are burning or when vegetation comes into contact with lava in volcanic eruption
s. In general, pyrolysis of organic substances produces gas and liquid products and leaves a solid residue richer in carbon content, char
. Extreme pyrolysis, which leaves mostly carbon
as the residue, is called carbonization
The process is used heavily in the chemical industry
, for example, to produce charcoal
, activated carbon
, and other chemicals from wood, to convert ethylene dichloride
into vinyl chloride
to make PVC
, to produce coke
, to convert biomass
, to turn waste plastics back into usable oil, The Plastic to Oil Machine | A\J – Canada's Environmental Voice
. Alternativesjournal.ca (2016-12-07). Retrieved on 2016-12-16. or waste into safely disposable substances, and for transforming medium-weight hydrocarbon
s from oil
ones like gasoline
. These specialized uses of pyrolysis may be called various names, such as dry distillation
, destructive distillation
, or cracking
. Pyrolysis is also used in the creation of nanoparticles, zirconia and oxidesHamedani, Hoda Amani (2008) Investigation of Deposition Parameters in Ultrasonic Spray Pyrolysis for Fabrication of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Cathode
, Georgia Institute of Technology
utilizing an ultrasonic nozzle
in a process called ultrasonic spray pyrolysis (USP).
Pyrolysis also plays an important role in several cooking
procedures, such as baking
, and caramelizing
. It is a tool of chemical analysis
, for example, in mass spectrometry
and in carbon-14 dating
. Indeed, many important chemical substances, such as phosphorus
and sulfuric acid
, were first obtained by this process. Pyrolysis has been assumed to take place during catagenesis
, the conversion of buried organic matter
to fossil fuels
. It is also the basis of pyrography
. In their embalming process, the ancient Egyptians used a mixture of substances, including methanol, which they obtained from the pyrolysis of wood.
Pyrolysis differs from other processes like combustion
in that it usually does not involve reactions with oxygen
, water, or any other reagents.Cory A. Kramer, Reza Loloee, Indrek S. Wichman and Ruby N. Ghosh, 2009, Time Resolved Measurements of Pyrolysis Products From Thermoplastic Poly-Methyl-Methacrylate (PMMA) ASME 2009 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
In practice, it is not possible to achieve a completely oxygen-free atmosphere. Because some oxygen is present in any pyrolysis system, a small amount of oxidation occurs.
The term has also been applied to the decomposition of organic material in the presence of superheated water
or steam ( hydrous pyrolysis
), for example, in the steam cracking
Occurrence and uses
Pyrolysis is usually the first chemical reaction that occurs in the burning
of many solid organic fuels, like wood, cloth, and paper, and also of some kinds of plastic
. In a wood fire
, the visible flames are not due to combustion of the wood itself, but rather of the gases released by its pyrolysis, whereas the flame-less burning of a solid, called smouldering
, is the combustion of the solid residue ( char
) left behind by pyrolysis. Thus, the pyrolysis of common materials like wood, plastic, and clothing is extremely important for fire safety
. In pyrolysis there is a gas phase present. It should not be confused with hydrothermal reactions such as hydrothermal gasification, hydrothermal liquidation, and hydrothermal carbonization, which occur in aqueous environments because the temperatures and reaction pathways differ, with ionic reactions favored in aqueous reactions and radical reactions favored in the absence of water.
Pyrolysis occurs whenever food is exposed to high enough temperatures in a dry environment, such as roasting, baking, toasting, or grilling. It is the chemical process responsible for the formation of the golden-brown crust in foods prepared by those methods.
In normal cooking, the main food components that undergo pyrolysis are carbohydrate
s (including sugar
, and fibre
) and protein
s. (See: Maillard reaction
.) Pyrolysis of fats
requires a much higher temperature, and, since it produces toxic and flammable products (such as acrolein
), it is, in general, avoided in normal cooking. It may occur, however, when grilling fatty meats over hot coals.
Even though cooking is normally carried out in air, the temperatures and environmental conditions are such that there is little or no combustion of the original substances or their decomposition products. In particular, the pyrolysis of proteins and carbohydrates begins at temperatures much lower than the ignition temperature
of the solid residue, and the volatile subproducts are too diluted in air to ignite. (In flambé
dishes, the flame is due mostly to combustion of the alcohol
, while the crust is formed by pyrolysis as in baking.)
Pyrolysis of carbohydrates and proteins requires temperatures substantially higher than , so pyrolysis does not occur as long as free water is present, e.g., in boiling
food — not even in a pressure cooker
. When heated in the presence of water, carbohydrates and proteins suffer gradual hydrolysis
rather than pyrolysis. Indeed, for most foods, pyrolysis is usually confined to the outer layers of food, and begins only after those layers have dried out.
Food pyrolysis temperatures are, however, lower than the boiling point
, so pyrolysis occurs when frying in vegetable oil
, or basting
meat in its own fat
Pyrolysis also plays an essential role in the production of barley tea
, and roasted nuts such as peanut
s and almond
s. As these consist mostly of dry materials, the process of pyrolysis is not limited to the outermost layers but extends throughout the materials. In all these cases, pyrolysis creates or releases many of the substances that contribute to the flavor, color, and biological properties
of the final product. It may also destroy some substances that are toxic, unpleasant in taste, or those that may contribute to spoilage
Controlled pyrolysis of sugars starting at produces caramel
, a beige to brown water-soluble product widely used in confectionery
and (in the form of caramel coloring
) as a coloring agent
for soft drink
s and other industrialized food products.
Solid residue from the pyrolysis of spilled and splattered food creates the brown-black encrustation often seen on cooking vessels, stove tops, and the interior surfaces of ovens.
People have used pyrolysis for turning wood into charcoal on an industrial scale since ancient times. Besides wood, the process can also use sawdust
and other wood-waste products.
Charcoal is obtained by heating wood until its complete pyrolysis (carbonization) occurs, leaving only carbon and inorganic ash
. In many parts of the world charcoal is still produced semi-industrially by burning a pile of wood that has been mostly covered with mud or with bricks. The heat generated by burning part of the wood and the volatile byproducts pyrolyzes the rest of the pile. The limited supply of oxygen prevents the charcoal from burning. A more modern alternative is to heat the wood in an airtight metal vessel, which is much less polluting
and allows the volatile products to be condensed.
The original vascular structure
of the wood and the pores created by escaping gases combine to produce a light and porous material. By starting with a dense wood-like material, such as nutshell
s or peach stone
s, one obtains a form of charcoal with particularly fine pores (and hence a much larger pore surface area), called activated carbon
, which is used as an adsorbent
for a wide range of chemical substances.
Residues of incomplete organic pyrolysis, e.g., from cooking fires, are thought to be the key component of the terra preta
soils associated with ancient indigenous
communities of the Amazon basin
The solid, carbon-containing char produced can be sequestered in the ground, where it could remain for several hundred to a few thousand years. Frequently Asked Questions about Biochar | International Biochar Initiative
. Biochar-international.org (2013-04-19). Retrieved on 2013-06-01. Research continues about the processes responsible for long-term sequestration of carbon in soils.
Pyrolysis is used on a massive scale to turn coal
, especially steelmaking
Coke can also be produced from the solid residue left from petroleum refining.
Those starting materials typically contain hydrogen, nitrogen, or oxygen atoms combined with carbon into molecules of medium to high molecular weight. The coke-making or "coking" process consists of heating the material in closed vessels to very high temperatures (up to ) so that those molecules are broken down into lighter volatile substances, which leave the vessel, and a porous but hard residue that is mostly carbon and inorganic ash. The amount of volatiles varies with the source material, but is typically 25–30% of it by weight.
s are filaments of carbon that can be used to make very strong yarns and textiles. Carbon fiber items are often produced by spinning and weaving the desired item from fibers of a suitable polymer
, and then pyrolyzing the material at a high temperature (from ).
The first carbon fibers were made from rayon
, but polyacrylonitrile
has become the most common starting material.
For their first workable electric lamp
s, Joseph Wilson Swan
and Thomas Edison
used carbon filaments made by pyrolysis of cotton
yarns and bamboo
Pyrolysis is the reaction used to coat a preformed substrate with a layer of pyrolytic carbon
. This is typically done in a fluidized bed reactor heated to . Pyrolytic carbon coatings are used in many applications, including artificial heart valve
s.Ratner, Buddy D. (2004). Pyrolytic carbon. In Biomaterials science: an introduction to materials in medicine
. Academic Press. pp. 171-180. .
Pyrolysis is the basis of several methods that are being developed for producing fuel from biomass
, which may include either crops grown for the purpose or biological waste products from other industries.Evans, G. "Liquid Transport Biofuels – Technology Status Report"
, " National Non-Food Crops Centre
", 14-04-08. Retrieved on 2009-05-05. Crops studied as biomass feedstock for pyrolysis include native North American prairie grasses such as switchgrass
and bred versions of other grasses such as Miscantheus giganteus
. Crops and plant material wastes provide biomass feedstock on the basis of their lignocellulose
Although synthetic diesel fuel
cannot yet be produced directly by pyrolysis of organic materials, there is a way to produce similar liquid ( bio-oil
) that can be used as a fuel, after the removal of valuable bio-chemicals that can be used as food additives or pharmaceuticals.