RLO’s growing interest in and passion in biohydrogen biorefineries originates from his doctoral research conducted jointly with the Schools of Biosciences and Chemical Engineering (UB, 2012) in which he focused on H2 production from biomass through the integration of thermochemical and biological processes.
Having a Chemical Engineering background RLO developed the necessary bio-technological skills and knowledge that allowed him to progress his work from evaluation of the performance of genetically modified E. coli strains for bioH2 and short chain organic acids generation in lab scale fermentations to the development of a novel combined fermentation system. This included an electro-separation process that permitted the continuous production of H2 at high conversion from sugary feedstocks.
RLO also developed the specialist skills in the operation of a unique solar simulation photo-bioreactor, key to the testing photo-bacteria under realistic conditions for the conversion of organic acids into bio-H2 at higher yields. Additionally RLO performed H2 fermentations at a pilot plant scale (120 L fermenters) through which he gained valuable knowledge and understanding of the implications of working in a bio-technology scaling-up environment.
During this time RLO also studied the thermal hydrolysis of model biomass compounds and real bio-wastes under various conditions for the production of fermentable material for bio-H2 production. In these studies, RLO evaluated the effect of hydrolysis co-products on bacterial activity and developed an effective ’detoxification’ technique based on the utilization of adsorbent materials that allowed the selective removal of H2 inhibitory compounds (some of them found to be useful ‘platform chemicals’) from the hydrolysis products achieving its successful utilization for bio-H2.
Subsequently RLO played a leading role in conceptualisation of an Integrated Bio-H2 refinery at lab scale to build synergy between thermal hydrolysis, extractive fermentation and photo-fermentation of food wastes.
Presently RLO is managing the development of a novel biohydrogen photo-fermentation system for Blue Sky Bio aiming to significantly improve hydrogen yields from organic materials by incorporating advances in photonics (via light emitting devices) and cell immobilization methods into a new reactor design.
RLO has published 6 papers, given 4 presentations in international conferences and participated in the development of the University web site on H2 research.