Biomass is an abundant renewable feedstock for energy conversion and an alternative source for the production of fuels and chemicals. Furanic compounds, such as 5-hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF), have been identified as key platform chemicals produced from the acid-catalyzed dehydration of biomass-derived carbohydrates. Micro-technology offers an economically sustainable route for the production of HMF through process intensification. In particular, the small length scale and high surface-to-volume ratio of continuous flow microreactors result into heat and mass transfer rates that are orders of magnitude greater than conventional macroscale systems. In addition, microreactors allow operation at reaction times from minutes to fractions of seconds under precisely controlled conditions for improved yields and selectivities.
In this work, we characterize the microreactor to assess its transport and mixing characteristics. We performed experiments for various carbohydrates and using various catalysts. As an example, we will present a kinetic study of the aqueous phase Brønsted acid-catalyzed dehydration of fructose to HMF in an in-house built microreactor using an HCl and KCl buffer solution as the catalyst. We also used a hybrid first-principles and data-driven kinetic model of the reaction network to determine the optimal reaction and operation conditions that maximize HMF yield. Conditions for optimal HMF yield were identified.