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The Role of the Reactor Wall in Hydrothermal Biomass Conversions



The processing of renewable feedstocks to platform chemicals and, to a lesser degree, fuels is a key part of sustainable development. In particular, the combination of lignocellulosic biomass with hydrothermal upgrading (HTU), using high temperature and pressure water (HTPW), is experiencing a renaissance. One of the many steps in this complicated process is the in-situ hydrogenation of intermediate compounds. As formic acid and related low-molecular-weight oxygenates are among the species generated, it is conceivable that they act as a hydrogen source. Such hydrogenations have been suggested to be catalyzed by water, by bases like NaOH, and/or to involve “reactive/nascent hydrogen”. To achieve the temperatures and pressures required for HTU, it is necessary to conduct the reactions in high-pressure vessels. Metals are typical components of their walls and/or internal fittings. Here, using cyclohexanone as a model compound for more complex biomass-derived molecules, iron in the wall of high-pressure stainless steel reactors is shown to be responsible for the hydrogenation of ketones with low-molecular-weight oxygenates acting as a hydrogen source in combination with water.