Branched Diol Monomers from the Sequential Hydrogenation of Renewable Carboxylic Acids



A prominent challenge in replacing petrochemical polymers with bioderived alternatives is the efficient transformation of biomass into useful monomers. In this work, we demonstrate a practical process for the synthesis of multifunctional alcohols from five- and six-carbon acids using heterogeneous catalysts in aqueous media. Design of this process was guided by thermodynamic calculations, which indicate the need for two sequential high-pressure hydrogenations: one, reduction of the acid to a lactone at high temperature; two, further reduction of the lactone to the corresponding diol or triol at low temperature. For example, the conversion of mesaconic acid into (α or β)-methyl-γ-butyrolactone was achieved with 95 % selectivity at a turnover frequency of 1.2 min−1 over Pd/C at 240 °C. Subsequent conversion of (α or β)-methyl-γ-butyrolactone into 2-methyl-1,4-butanediol was achieved with a yield of 80 % with Ru/C at 100 °C. This process is an efficient method for the production of lactones, diols, and triols, all valuable monomers for the synthesis of bioderived branched polyesters.