Integration of Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Catalytic Processes for Sustainable Biomass Conversion

Istvan T. Horvath 

Eötvös University, Institute of Chemistry, Pázmány Péter sétány 1/A, Budapest H-1117, Hungary


The sustainability of mankind depends whether we can supply the increasing population with enough energy, food, and chemicals, including carbon-based consumer products, simultaneously without compromising the long term health of our planet.  While it is difficult to predict the exact date of the depletion of fossil fuels, the transition to renewable resources should be accelerated because of the frequently and unexpectedly changing political/economical environments resulting in limited access to and rising costs of fossil fuels.  The development of sustainable liquids for energy and the chemical industry should be considered as a key research area in the next decades.

The conversion of biomass to chemicals represents a major challenge because of the complex nature of the substrates, e.g. the biomass, both chemically and physically. While large scale processes could take the advantages of heterogeneous catalysis, their use could be limited by the solid nature of biomass. The application of homogeneous catalysts, especially water soluble systems, could offer the possibility to deliver the catalytically species into the solid or swelled biomass. Integration of heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysts including enzymes could lead to the development of novel, commercially attractive multi-step processes.

We have proposed that g-valerolactone (GVL), a frequently used food additive, exhibits the most important characteristics of an ideal sustainable liquid. It is important to recognize that the use of a single chemical entity instead of a mixture of compounds could significantly simplify its worldwide monitoring and regulation. We have been investigating the selective conversion of carbohydrates to various C5-oxygenates including levulinic acid, GVL, 2-methyl-THF and alkanes using homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts. The preliminary evaluation of GVL as a fuel additive, performed by adding 3, 6 and 9% to 95-octane gasoline, shows very attractive properties, comparable to ethanol.

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Presentation: Invited at COST D30 Final Evaluation Meeting, by Istvan T. Horvath
See On-line Journal of COST D30 Final Evaluation Meeting

Submitted: 2007-10-19 14:38
Revised:   2009-06-07 00:48
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