Are catalysts really required to convert sugars to furans?
The necessity of using solid catalysts for the conversion of monosaccharides to furans, such as furfural (FUR) and hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), is the paradigm reflected in hundreds of published scientific articles every year, where authors try explaining the mechanisms of surface reactions and increasing product yields with a wide variety of innovative catalytic materials.
A modelling-supported kinetic study by the young researcher Ana Jakob from the Department of Catalysis and Reaction Engineering managed to demonstrate, that the most effective conversion of monosaccharides into HMF is achieved in the absence of any catalyst with acidic sites, the materials most frequently tested in the literature. Despite the energy barrier of chemical reactions is lowered by the use of catalysts, the reduction with catalysts known so far is always disproportionately higher for undesired reactions compared to the desired dehydration step. The study also showed that due to the high difference between the activation energies of the desired and undesired reactions, the optimal synthesis should be carried out at very high temperatures and extremely low residence times.
The publication in prestigious Green Chemistry (IF=11.0) journal demonstrates the originality of the young researcher and her research group. It represents a leap forward beyond the state-of-the art and shifts the established paradigms on the field of catalytic biomass conversion.
Figure: Validation experiments of (a) homogeneous fructose dehydration and (b) H-BEA catalysed fructose conversion under the predicted optimal conditions.
The article is available in open access
Contact person: miha.grilc(at)ki.si