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10/20/14

A solution for valorization of lignocellulose: Roberto Rinaldi receives the prestigious Willi Keim Prize 2014

A solution for valorization of lignocellulose: Roberto Rinaldi receives the prestigious Willi Keim Prize 2014

The Willi Keim Prize 2014 is being awarded to Dr. Roberto Rinaldi of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim, Germany, for his innovative work on the breakdown of lignocellulosic biomass for catalytic downstream processing. The Willi Keim Prize is awarded to younger scientists for fundamental and original research work in the field of advanced fluids; it comes with prize money of 2,000 euros. The award ceremony took place on 19 October 2014 during the 7th Green Solvents Conference in Dresden.

In times of climate change and resource scarcity the challenge is to find alternative routes to produce energy carriers and basic chemicals. Plants and plant waste are a huge source of renewable carbon. To make use of them, the main plant constituents (cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose) have to be broken down. Unlike petroleum, the highly functionalized biomass molecules cannot be vaporized without undergoing thermal decomposition. Substrate solubilization is mandatory for the catalytic conversion.

Roberto Rinaldi and his group developed an innovative solvent system for lignocelluloses biomass. By adding small amounts of ionic liquids to conventional solvents, he achieved the instantaneous and complete dissolution of cellulose, making it accessible for the controlled breakdown by specific catalysts. This important breakthrough has opened up completely new prospects for biomass conversion and cellulose chemistry.

Roberto Rinaldi, born in 1979, studied Chemistry at the State University of Campinas, where he also received his PhD in 2006, for his work on catalytic epoxidation through environmentally friendly methodologies, under Prof. Dr. Ulf Schuchardt. In 2007, he moved to Germany to work first as a post-doc fellow at the Department of Heterogeneous Catalysis (Prof. Dr. Ferdi Schüth), Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung. In 2009, he was promoted to Junior Group Leader.

In 2010, he received the Sofja-Kovalevskaja Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to start an independent research group in the field of Valorization of Lignin and Cellulose. Roberto Rinaldi received in his academic life several Awards and served as an advisor of the Brazilian Embassy in Berlin in the period of 2010-2013. In 2014, he was a member of the Young Scientist Committee in the Inaugural Meeting of the UN Scientific Advisory Board in Berlin.

Recently, he accepted an offer of Senior Lecturer (associate professor) in the Department of Chemical Engineering of the Imperial College London, where he will continue his academic life in 2015.