1 Tahrcountry Musings: Plants as Building Blocks for Plastics and Fuels

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plants as Building Blocks for Plastics and Fuels

In a path breaking research, chemists have successfully converted cellulose directly into a building block for plastics and fuels, called HMF (5-hydroxymethylfurfural). The new research breakthrough bypasses the sugar-forming step and goes straight from cellulose to HMF.

The research was led by chemist Z. Conrad Zhang from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. A combination of copper chloride and chromium chloride under 120 degrees Celsius broke down the cellulose without creating the usual unwanted byproducts. This is ten times faster than the use of acid for breaking down cellulose and works at much lower temperatures.

The new technology converted about 57 percent of the sugar content in the cellulose feedstock to HMF through a single process. The team recovered more than 90% of the HMF formed. The final product from the process was an amazingly 96% pure.

Metal chlorides and ionic liquid could be reused a number of times without losing their effectiveness. This mean the cost of production of HMF will come down. Fuel and plastic from plants is not science fiction any more. It is right here at our doorstep. A few tweaks are of course needed before the process goes commercial.

Need oriented research like this can help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Journal Reference:
Y. Su, H.M. Brown, X. Huang, X.-d. Zhou, J.E. Amonette, Z.C. Zhang. Single-Step Conversion of Cellulose to 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a Versatile Platform Chemical. Applied Catalysis A: General, Online 9 April 2009 DOI: 10.1016/j.apcata.2009.04.002

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