A brief history of pyrolysis

The word “pyrolysis” is coined from two Ancient Greek words pyro (πυρο) meaning fire and lysis (λύσις) meaning separating (or solution), so pyrolysis means separation by fire or heat.

The history of pyrolysis technology can be traced back to ancient times when it was used to turn wood into charcoal. The ancient Egyptians even used the liquid fraction obtained from the pyrolysis of cedar wood in their embalming process. Dry distillation of wood remained the major source of methanol until the early 20th century.

In the early 20th century, scientists began experimenting with the process of heating biomass in the absence of oxygen to produce liquid and gaseous fuels. Industrial-scale pyrolysis processes were developed in the 1930s and 1940s in Europe and the United States to convert wood into liquid fuel. Over the following decades, the technology continued to evolve with experiments using different types of biomass and the development of new methods for processing and upgrading the products of pyrolysis.

There are several different processes of pyrolysis, including fast pyrolysis, slow pyrolysis, and gasification. These processes produce products such as liquid hydrocarbons, char, biogas, and an aqueous phase containing organic acids. The specific product distribution depends on factors such as temperature, residency time, feed pretreatment, and the equipment used.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the focus of biomass pyrolysis research shifted towards the production of charcoal and activated carbon. Since then, efforts have been made to improve the efficiency and scalability of the pyrolysis process and to explore new applications for the products, such as the production of chemicals, biofuels, and fertilizers.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in biomass pyrolysis as a means of producing renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Pyrolysis technology is now used in various applications, ranging from small-scale heating systems to large-scale industrial processes.

In conclusion, while the pyrolysis technology has ancient roots, biochar is by no means a simple or singular product. The wide range of methods to produce biochar and its various applications are a key reason for Inspiratus Technologies to invest extensively in research and development of pyrolysis methods and post-production treatment options for biochar. This provides us the opportunity to tailor pyrolysis processes to every situation and application, ranging from low cost and robust solutions for waste management, to more complex high value applications of biochar, activated carbon, or graphene, and anything in between.

(1)Imagen: Historical Developments of Pyrolysis Reactors


(1) Source: Garcia-Nunez, J. A.; Pelaez-Samaniego, M. R.; Garcia-Perez, M. E.; Fonts, I.; Abrego, J.; Westerhof, R. J. M.; Garcia-Perez, M. Historical Developments of Pyrolysis Reactors: A Review. Energy Fuels 2017, 31, 5751– 5775,

More detailed information about pyrolysis can be found on Wikipedia