Biofuel to reduce oil dependency 

By Karen Herland

Professor Emeritus Raymond Le Van Mao took time out of his busy research schedule to attend his own retirement party. Magnifying glass

Professor Emeritus Raymond Le Van Mao took time out of his busy research schedule to attend his own retirement party.

Raymond Le Van Mao was eager to share his latest research discovery after the Sept. 8 luncheon acknowledging his career among those of 55 other retirees.

Le Van Mao, Professor Emeritus of Industrial Chemistry and Director of the Industrial Catalysis Laboratory at Loyola, is preparing two patent applications related to his latest discovery of a thermo-catalytic process to convert cellulosic biomass into biofuels.

“Retirement was an excuse to pursue the work in earnest,” jokes Le Van Mao about the research he has helmed with financial support from NSERC, the provincial Ministry of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade and Valeo Management.

Concordia researchers are studying numerous alternative sources of energy, both to limit Western dependence on petroleum, but also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the potential dangers of climate change.

Le Van Mao has long been interested in developing alternative energy sources. For many years, he was involved in fuel extraction from oil sands. Although this research can be lucrative, he became discouraged by the heavy environmental costs associated with the process. “They needed to shoot cannons to keep birds from landing on the (polluted) water and dying,” he recalls.

His latest discovery stresses environmental safety and efficiency both in its use of forestry and agricultural materials, and a one step cellulosic conversion process which reduces the energy or electricity that might be required for a multi-step process. According to Le Van Mao, the process is extremely efficient. The conversion is immediate (a one-pot, one-step process) and the end products are readily separated, eliminating additional refining and further reducing process energy requirements and resources.

The result is that the biomass is converted directly into alternative biofuels or additives to increase the potential of existing fuels.

Considerations involved in evaluating a process include the amount of energy necessary to produce the raw materials vs. the amount of energy yielded at the end of the process. For instance, if a crop has to be grown, fertilized and harvested using frequent trips with a diesel-fueled tractor, the amount of energy the crop produces should far exceed the amount of energy spent to get it.

Le Van Mao is convinced his process is efficient on that score. More importantly, he has determined the fuel produced with his process releases less carbon dioxide than the plants absorb before being converted.

Le Van Mao shows no signs of slowing down. “This is just the first patent application. We’re like pioneers in the far west; first you make a claim, but that’s just the beginning,” he says. Over the years several patents on his technologies have been issued, “but this is the best of my inventions,” he exclaims.

Le Van Mao began his Concordia career in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1982 after working in industry in Italy and Paris. He received the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Scholarship in 2007-08.

Read more on the long service reception.


Concordia University