Single-Phase Catalysis for Reductive Etherification of Diesel Bioblendstocks

Glenn Hafenstine, Nabila Huq, Davis Conklin, Matthew Wiatrowski, Xiangchen Huo, Qianying Guo, Kinga Unocic, Derek Vardon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus Citations


Reductive etherification is a promising catalytic chemistry for coupling biomass derived alcohols and ketones to produce branched ethers that can be used as high cetane, low sooting blendstocks for diesel fuel applications. Previous catalyst materials examined for reductive etherification have typically been limited to binary physical mixtures of metal hydrogenation and acidic acetalization catalysts with limited thermal stability and industrial applicability. To address this, we developed a single-phase catalyst comprising Pd supported on acidic metal oxides with high catalytic activity, product selectivity, and regeneration stability. Batch reactor screening identified niobium phosphate (NbOPO4) as the most active acidic metal oxide catalyst support, which was downselected to synthesize single-phase catalysts by Pd loading. Several branched ethers with favourable fuel properties were synthesized to demonstrate broad catalyst applicability. The fresh Pd/NbOPO4 catalyst displayed a surface area of 130 m2 g-1, high acidity of 324 μmol g-1 and Pd dispersion of 7.8%. The use of acidic metal oxide support allowed for elevated reaction temperatures with a mass selectivity to 4-butoxyheptane of 81% at 190 °C and an apparent activation energy of 40 kJ mol-1. Continuous flow reactor testing demonstrated steady catalyst deactivation due to coke formation of 10 wt% after 117 h of time-on-stream. Four simulated catalyst regeneration cycles led to small changes in surface area and total acidity; however, a decrease in Pd site density from 18 to 8 μmol g-1, in combination with an apparent Pd nanoparticle size effect, caused an increase in the production rate of 4-butoxyheptane from 138 to 190 μmol gcat-1 min-1 with the regenerated catalyst. Lastly, technoeconomic analysis showed that higher H2 equivalents and lower weight hourly space velocity values can reduce ether catalytic production costs.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)4463-4472
Number of pages10
JournalGreen Chemistry
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Royal Society of Chemistry.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-76236


  • blendstocks
  • catalyst materials
  • diesel fuel
  • etherification


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