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Keywords:

  • biomass;
  • heterogeneous catalysis;
  • hydrogenation;
  • nanoparticles;
  • renewable resources

Abstract

Levulinic acid is an important platform molecule from biomass-based renewable resources. A sustainable manufacturing process for this chemical and its derivatives is the enabling factor to harness the renewable resource. An integrated catalytic process to directly convert furfural to levulinate ester was developed based on a bifunctional catalyst of Pt nanoparticles supported on a ZrNb binary phosphate solid acid. The hydrogenation of furfural and the following alcoholysis of furfuryl alcohol were performed over this catalyst in a one-pot conversion model. Mesoporous ZrNb binary phosphate was synthesized by a sol–gel method and had a high surface area of 170.1 m2 g−1 and a large average pore size of around 8.0 nm. Pt nanoparticles remained in a monodisperse state on the support, and the reaction over Pt/ZrNbPO4 (Pt loading: 2.0 wt %; Zr/Nb, 1:1) gave a very high selectivity to levulinate derivatives (91 % in total). The sustainability of this conversion was greatly improved by the process intensification based on the new catalyst, mild reaction conditions, cost abatement in separation and purification, and utilization of green reagents and solvents.