(576d) Commodity Chemicals from Lignocellulosic Biomass: Conversion of Furfural into 1,5-Pentanediol
Furfural, is one of the most important platform chemicals produced from biomass. It is commercially produced from the hemicellulose portion of biomass by hydration to xylose and subsequent dehydration (Xing et al., 2011). Furfural can then undergo hydrodeoxygenation to produce PDO with tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol (THFA) as a precursor. The furfural is first hydrogenated to THFA (Nakagawa and Tomishige, 2010; Nakagawa et al., 2012). The resulting THFA can then be converted into PDO by a Rh-ReOx/C catalyst at high selectivity (above 97.2% selectivity). However, the bottlenecks for this process are: (1) the production of PDO at low conversion; (2) the high catalyst cost resulting from using an expensive noble bimetallic RhRe catalyst; and (3) the high capital cost of reaction and separation systems resulting from low feedstock loading in the liquid phase.
In this work, we propose a novel multi-step catalytic process to convert furfural into PDO at high feedstock loading (up to 50 wt% in water) using non-precious metal catalysts. We also design a separation subsystem for the recovery of the final PDO product from process water. We have developed an experimentally based process simulation model (mass and energy balances) to determine the economic potential of PDO production. It is shown that this strategy leads to much lower catalyst costs and a higher overall PDO yield (over 80%) comparing to one-step THFA hydrogenolysis (Chia et al., 2011) using a noble metal catalyst. If we consider a plant processing 135 ton per day furfural (equivalent to 1,000 dry metric tonne per day white birch) feedstock and producing 38,520 ton per year PDO, the integrated strategy leads to a production cost of $1,600 per ton of PDO. We estimate that this cost is over 35% lower than the cost of production of PDO via a noble metal catalyst. Finally, we perform sensitivity analysis to identify the major economic drivers of the process and suggest future research directions.
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