Heather Trajano

Associate Professor

Theme Lead, Theme 4- Biorefinery Systems, UBC BioProducts Institute

Office: CHBE 203

Email: heather.trajano@ubc.ca

Research Summary

Biomass Conversion, Biorefinery, Pulp and Paper, Hemicellulose, Extractives, Enzymatic Hydrolysis, Catalysis, Kinetic Modeling, Transport Phenomena


University of California Riverside, 2012, Ph.D.

University of Alberta, 2007, B.Sc.

Research interests + projects

My research aims to transform B.C.’s pulp, paper, and saw mills into innovative biorefineries producing chemicals and energy alongside current outputs.  This transformation will generate new revenue and employment opportunities and contribute to establishment of a low-carbon economy. There are many pathways to transform wood because of its complex composition. Wood is made up of three long chain-like molecules called cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Wood also contains small molecules called extractives. My focus to transform hemicellulose and extractives into valuable chemicals and materials.

You might have a hemicellulose product in your pocket right now.  Hemicellulose can be transformed to xylitol, a sweetener commonly used in gum because it prevents tooth decay. To maximize hemicellulose’s value, it must recovered from wood in good quantity and quality.  My lab works to advance technologies to recover hemicellulose suitable for an array of applications from increasing paper strength to food additives.

Did you know that Taxol, the best-selling cancer drug ever-manufactured, is an extractive that was first produced from Pacific Yew bark? Highly bioactive extractives are part of tree’s defenses against infestation by microbes. My lab works to leverage strategic opportunities to recover these extraordinary molecules from pulp mill process stream. We develop processes to recover and purify extractives in order to generate valuable fine chemicals.

Both hemicellulose and extractives can be transformed through catalysis. For example, a catalyst is needed to convert hemicellulose to xylitol or convert extractives to pharmaceuticals. My lab investigates how the complexity of biomass influences catalytic reactions.

Independent of project, my goal is to integrate knowledge of biomass structure with fundamental chemical engineering principles such as kinetics and mass transfer to develop processes.  I work with academic and industry experts from diverse disciplines to advance the frontiers of biorefining.

Awards and honours

Killam Faculty Research Fellowship , 2019

UBC Chemical and Biological Engineering Undergraduate Club Teaching Award – Third Year , 2017

UBC Chemical and Biological Engineering Undergraduate Club Teaching Award , 2016

Full publications link

Selected publications + presentations

Lu X, Junghans P, Wärnå J, Hilpmann G, Lange R, Trajano H, Eränen K, Estel L, Leveneur S, Grénman H.  “Hydrolysis of semi-industrial aqueous extracted xylan from birch (Betula pendula) employing commercial catalysts: kinetics and modelling.” Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology. 2021. DOI: 10.1002/jctb.6918. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/share/APE47M3WU6KBVXKWMHHW?target=10.1002/jctb.6918

Dhewangga Putra RD, Wijaya P, Leung R, Smith K, Trajano HL, Kim CS. “The effect of in-situ phenol hydrogenation with Raney Ni on the fate of hydrogen from glycerol aqueous phase reforming.” Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, 59(33), 14679-14688, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.iecr.0c02275

Chen J, Martinez DM, Chang, XF, Beatson R, Trajano HL. “Evolution of Hemicellulose Molar Mass During Softwood Hydrolysis” ACS Sustainable Chemistry& Engineering, 8(28), 10345-10356, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1021/acssuschemeng.0c00814

Sella Kapu N, Yuan Z, Chang XF, Beatson R, Martinez DM, Trajano HL.  “Insight into the evolution of the proton concentration during autohydrolysis and dilute acid hydrolysis of hemicellulose.” Biotechnology for Biofuels, 9, 224-234, 2016. https://rdcu.be/cEIcp

Trajano HL, Engle NL, Foston M, Ragauskas AJ, Tschaplinski TJ, Wyman CE. “Fate of lignin during hydrothermal pretreatment,” Biotechnology for Biofuels 6. 2013. https://doi.org/10.1186/1754-6834-6-110