Direct Conversion of Biomass Carbohydrates to Platform Chemicals: 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and Furfural

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5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and furfural are promising platform molecules which can be converted to fuel intermediates and hydrocarbon fuels. Herein, one-step, direct conversion of the carbohydrates in never treated biomass to HMF and furfural in a microwave reactor was investigated. The influence of reaction temperature, time, feedstock, addition of Lewis and Brønsted acids, solvent and solvent to aqueous ratio were studied to find the optimum process conditions to maximize the yields of furfurals. The reaction conditions of 200 °C for 5 min with 33 mM HCl and 8 mM AlCl3 using a dioxane/water (4:1) miscible solvent system were found to be the most conducive for direct dehydration of the glucan and hemicelluloses present in untreated poplar wood to furfural and HMF in yields of 91 and 69%, respectively. Furfural could be easily produced in yields greater than 80%, and once formed, it was found to be stable under the various process conditions explored. In contrast, HMF yields varied with both reaction time and temperature, as it readily underwent rehydration to levulinic acid in yields approaching 25-30% at increased reaction severity. The additions of both Brønsted (HCl) and Lewis (AlCl3) acids in catalytic amounts, i.e., 33 and 8 mM, respectively, were required to maximize the yield of furfurals. Reactions were also performed on other feedstocks (corn stover, switchgrass, loblolly pine, and pure cellulose) to investigate the effect of feedstock type on furfurals yields. Results showed that HMF and furfural yields were primarily dependent on hexosan and pentosan loading regardless of the type of feedstock. In addition, biomass physical features, such as crystallinity or the presence of other biomass constituents, such as lignin, had little influence on furfurals yields.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3284-3293
Number of pages10
JournalEnergy and Fuels
Issue number3
StatePublished - 19 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-74720


  • 5-hydroxymethylfurfural
  • biomass
  • carbohydrate
  • crystallinity
  • dehydration
  • furfural
  • HMF


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