Valorization of hydrothermal liquefaction aqueous phase: pathways towards commercial viability

Jamison Watson, Tengfei Wang, Buchun Si, Wan Ting Chen, Aersi Aierzhati, Yuanhui Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) is a thermochemical conversion technology that shows promising commercial potential for the production of biocrude oil from wet biomass. However, the inevitable production of the hydrothermal liquefaction aqueous phase (HTL-AP) acts as a double-edged sword: it is considered a waste stream that without additional treatment clouds the future scale-up prospects of HTL technology; on the other hand, it also offers potential as an untapped nutrient and energy resource that could be valorized. As more researchers turn to liquefaction as a means of producing renewable fuel, there is a growing need to better understand HTL-AP from a variety of vantage points. Specifically, the HTL-AP chemical composition, conversion pathways, energy valorization potential, and the interconnection of HTL-AP conversion with biofuel production technology are particularly worthy of investigation. This paper extensively reviews the impact of HTL conditions and the feedstock composition on the energy and elemental distribution of process outputs with specific emphasis on the HTL-AP. Moreover, this paper also compares and contrasts the current state of value-added products separation along with biological (biomass cultivation, anaerobic fermentation, and bioelectrochemical systems) and thermochemical (gasification and HTL) pathways to valorize HTL-AP. Furthermore, life cycle analysis (LCA) and techno-economic assessments (TEA) are performed to appraise the environmental sustainability and economic implications of these different valorization techniques. Finally, perspectives and challenges are presented and the integration approaches of HTL-AP valorization pathways with HTL and biorefining are explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100819
JournalProgress in Energy and Combustion Science
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Aqueous phase
  • Biocrude oil
  • Hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL)
  • Waste valorization
  • Wet biomass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


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