Nanotech 2010

High-Yield Chemical Conversion of Biomass into Biofuels and Value-Added Products

M. Mascal, E.B. Nikitin
University of California, Davis, US

Keywords: biomass conversion, biofuels, cellulose, chemical intermediates, renewables

Abstract:

We have developed a new method to efficiently convert waste biomass (agricultural, municipal forestry) into biofuels and value-added products. The process is completely chemical in nature, inexpensive, and produces no waste stream. The derived products are non-toxic, biodegradable substitutes for petroleum, both in motor fuels and as renewable chemical intermediates. The technology involves the acidic digestion of the carbohydrate content of biomass (sugars, starch, cellulose, hemicellulose) in a proprietary biphasic reactor under mild conditions (80 °C, 3 h) to give 5-(chloromethyl)furfural (CMF) as the main product in isolated yields approaching 90%. To our knowledge, no other method of biomass deconstruction gives such complete conversion of carbohydrates into a simple organic molecule. We present CMF here as an emerging renewable platform chemical, providing access to a versatile portfolio of derived products. For example, by reaction with ethanol or hydrogen, CMF is converted into 5-(ethoxymethyl)furfural and 5-methylfurfural, respectively, both of which are promising biofuel candidates. Further reduction of the latter gives access to energy-dense 2,5-dimethylfuran and 2,5-dimethyltetrahydrofuran biofuels. By reaction with water, the CMF product is converted in high yield into levulinic acid, which is recognized as one of the top value-added chemicals from biomass.
 
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