Mesoporous hollow colloidal particles with well-defined characteristics have potential use in many applications. In liquid-phase catalysis, in particular, they can provide a large active surface area, reduced diffusion resistance, improved accessibility to reactants, and excellent dispersity in reaction media. Herein, we report the tailored synthesis of sulfated ZrO2 hollow nanostructures and their catalytic applications in the dehydration of fructose. ZrO2 hollow nanoshells with controllable thickness were first synthesized through a robust sol–gel process. Acidic functional groups were further introduced to the surface of hollow ZrO2 shells by sulfuric acid treatment followed by calcination. The resulting sulfated ZrO2 hollow particles showed advantageous properties for liquid-phase catalysis, such as well-maintained structural integrity, good dispersity, favorable mesoporosity, and a strongly acidic surface. By controlling the synthesis and calcination conditions and optimizing the properties of sulfated ZrO2 hollow shells, we have been able to design superacid catalysts with superior performance in the dehydration of fructose to 5-hydroxymethyfurfural than the solid sulfated ZrO2 nanocatalyst.
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