Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sugars to Fuels & Chemicals Taking on Greater Role


A research team in Singapore has developed a high yield (87%) method of converting fructose into hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a chemical intermediate of growing importance for producing a wide range of useful and high value products.
A team at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore reports in a paper in the journal ChemSusChem on an isopropyl alcohol-mediated reaction system for the production of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) from fructose that reaches a yield of up to 87%.

HMF is a promising chemical intermediate with wide applications in the production of fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics and liquid alkanes and was one of six primary areas of focus in a 2008 report from the National Science Foundation on bio-hydrocarbon fuels. (Earlier post.) The cost-effective production of HMF and its fuel and chemical derivatives from biomass is thus of ongoing research interest.

The solvent in the new process can be easily recycled by evaporation, giving the HMF product. The system avoids the use of large amounts of organic solvent, has a minimal environmental impact, and offers a new route to large-scale economically viable processes, the authors say. _GCC

Converting biomass into sugars is a very hot area of research. More.

Once biomass is converted to sugars (and other basic substances), further conversion to fuels, chemicals, plastics, feeds, and other materials can take place (PDF).

It is likely that biomass derivatives will displace petroleum from significant parts of the chemicals and plastics industries, before doing the same in the fuels industry -- due to the higher value of chemicals and materials. In fact, we can see this process already taking place with companies such as Amyris. And this is just the beginning.

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