New Process for the Efficient Production of a Chemical Intermediate (HMF) from Sugar; Building Blocks for Plastics and Fuels
|Click to enlarge. Source: James Dumesic|
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed an efficient process to make a chemical intermediate called HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural) from fructose from biomass. HMF can be converted into plastics, petroleum or diesel fuel extenders, or even into diesel fuel itself.
The two-phase process operates at high fructose concentrations (10 to 50 wt.%), achieves high yields (80% HMF selectivity at 90% fructose conversion), and delivers HMF in a separation-friendly solvent.
Prof. James Dumesic—a co-founder of Virent, a company which is commercializing the aqueous phase reforming technology he developed (earlier post)—and his research team reports on this work in the 30 June issue of the journal Science.
Trying to understand how to use catalytic processes to make chemicals and fuel from biomass is a growing area. Instead of using the ancient solar energy locked up in fossil fuels, we are trying to take advantage of the carbon dioxide and modern solar energy that crop plants pick up.—James Dumesic
The basic approach to this type of biofuel technology is the controlled removal of oxygen from carbohydrates to obtain oxygenated hydrocarbons. The controlled elimination of water from sugars has been studied extensively, and can provide HMF, levulinic acid, and other organic acids.
Although other researchers have previously converted fructose into HMF, Dumesic’s research group made a series of improvements that raised the HMF output and also made the HMF easier to extract.
The new process first dehydrates the fructose in the aqueous phase with the use of an acid catalyst (hydrochloric acid or an acidic ion-exchange resin) with dimethylsulfoxide and/or poly(1-vinyl-2-pyrrolidinone) added to suppress undesired side reactions.
The HMF product then moves to a solvent that carries it to a separate location, where it is extracted. Once made, HMF can be converted into plastics or diesel fuel.
Dumesic is also exploring methods to convert other sugars and even more complex carbohydrates into HMF and other chemical intermediates. In earlier work, Dumesic and his team had demonstrated the dehydration and hydrogenation of an aqueous stream of sorbitol to hexane.
This field of study is ripe for further rapid advances as the revolution in catalysis, computational modeling, and combinatorial chemistry will lead to a suite of catalytic systems that will facilitate the conversion of biomass polysaccarides to liquid alkanes and oxyalkanes for fuel applications.—Ragauskas, et. al.
“Phase Modifiers Promote Efficient Production of Hydroxymethylfurfural from Fructose”; Yuriy Román-Leshkov, Juben N. Chheda, James A. Dumesic; Science 30 June 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5782, pp. 1933 - 1937; DOI: 10.1126/science.1126337
“The Path Forward for Biofuels and Biomaterials”; Arthur J. Ragauskas, Charlotte K. Williams, Brian H. Davison, George Britovsek, John Cairney, Charles A. Eckert, William J. Frederick, Jr., Jason P. Hallett, David J. Leak, Charles L. Liotta, Jonathan R. Mielenz, Richard Murphy, Richard Templer, Timothy Tschaplinski; Science 27 January 2006:Vol. 311. no. 5760, pp. 484 - 489; DOI: 10.1126/science.1114736
“Production of Liquid Alkanes by Aqueous-Phase Processing of Biomass-Derived Carbohydrates”; George W. Huber, Juben N. Chheda, Christopher J. Barrett, James A. Dumesic; Science 3 June 2005: Vol. 308. no. 5727, pp. 1446 - 1450; DOI: 10.1126/science.1111166