Pyrolysis is a thermochemical decomposition of organic material at elevated temperatures without the participation of oxygen. It involves the simultaneous change of chemical composition and physical phase, and is irreversible. The word is coined from the Greek-derived elements pyro "fire" and lysis "separating".

Pyrolysis is a case of thermolysis, and is most commonly used for organic materials, being, therefore, one of the processes involved in charring. The pyrolysis of wood, which starts at 200–300 °C (390–570 °F), occurs for example in fires where solid fuels are burning or when vegetation comes into contact with lava in volcanic eruptions. In general, pyrolysis of organic substances produces gas and liquid products and leaves a solid residue richer in carbon content, char. Extreme pyrolysis, which leaves mostly carbon as the residue, is called carbonization.

The process is used heavily in the chemical industry, for example, to produce charcoal, activated carbon, methanol, and other chemicals from wood, to convert ethylene dichloride into vinyl chloride to make PVC, to produce coke from coal, to convert biomass into syngas and biochar, to turn waste into safely disposable substances, and for transforming medium-weight hydrocarbons from oil into lighter ones like gasoline. These specialized uses of pyrolysis may be called various names, such as dry distillation, destructive distillation, or cracking.

Pyrolysis also plays an important role in several cooking procedures, such as baking, frying, grilling, and caramelizing. In addition, it is a tool of chemical analysis, for example, in mass spectrometry and in carbon-14 dating. Indeed, many important chemical substances, such as phosphorus and sulfuric acid, were first obtained by this process. Pyrolysis has been assumed to take place during catagenesis, the conversion of buried organic matter to fossil fuels. It is also the basis of pyrography. In their embalming process, the ancient Egyptians used a mixture of substances, including methanol, which they obtained from the pyrolysis of wood.

Pyrolysis differs from other high-temperature processes like combustion and hydrolysis in that it usually does not involve reactions with oxygen, water, or any other reagents. In practice, it is not possible to achieve a completely oxygen-free atmosphere. Because some oxygen is present in any pyrolysis system, a small amount of oxidation occurs.

The term has also been applied to the decomposition of organic material in the presence of superheated water or steam (hydrous pyrolysis), for example, in the steam cracking of oil.

Read more about Pyrolysis:  Processes, Industrial Sources, Chemistry

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