Efficient transformation of biomass-derived feedstocks to chemicals and fuels remains a daunting challenge in utilizing biomass as alternatives to fossil resources. A three-phase catalytic system, consisting of an aqueous phase, a hydrophobic ionic-liquid phase, and a solid-acid catalyst phase of nanostructured vanadium phosphate and mesostructured cellular foam (VPO–MCF), is developed for efficient conversion of biomass-derived fructose to 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). HMF is a promising, versatile building block for production of value-added chemicals and transportation fuels. The essence of this three-phase system lies in enabling the isolation of the solid-acid catalyst from the aqueous phase and regulation of its local environment by using a hydrophobic ionic liquid, 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium bis(trifluoromethylsulfonyl)imide ([BMIM][Tf2N]). This system significantly inhibits the side reactions of HMF with H2O and leads to 91 mol % selectivity to HMF at 89 % of fructose conversion. The unique three-phase catalytic system opens up an alternative avenue for making solid-acid catalyst systems with controlled and locally regulated microenvironment near catalytically active sites by using a hydrophobic ionic liquid
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