A new procedure for improving the performance of the most common catalysts used in aqueous-phase aldol condensation (Mg–Zr mixed oxides) reactions is presented. This reaction is of interest for upgrading carbohydrate feedstocks. The procedure involves supporting Mg–Zr oxides on non-microporous carbonaceous materials, such as carbon nanofibers (CNFs) or high-surface-area graphites (HSAGs), using either incipient wetness or coprecipitation procedures. The use of HSAGs together with the coprecipitation method provides the best performance. Results obtained for the cross-condensation of acetone and furfural at 323 K reveal that the catalyst performance is greatly improved compared to the bulk oxides (96.5 % conversion vs. 81.4 % with the bulk oxide; 87.8 % selectivity for C13 and C8 adducts vs. 76.2 % with the bulk oxide). This difference is even more prominent in terms of rates per catalytically active basic site (four and seven times greater for C8 and C13 adducts, respectively). The improved performance is explained in terms of a more appropriate basic site distribution and by greater interaction of the reactants with the carbon surface. In addition, deactivation behavior of the catalyst is improved by tuning the morphology of the carbonaceous support. An important enhancement of the catalytic stability can be obtained selecting a HSAG with an appropriate pore diameter. With HSAG100 the activity decreased by less than 20 % between successive reaction cycles and the selectivity for the condensation products remained almost unaltered. The decrease is greater than 80 % for the bulk oxides tested at these conditions, with important increases in the selectivity for by-product formation.
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