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Metal Catalysts for the Conversion of Biomass to Chemicals

Pierre Gallezot,     Institut de recherches sur la catalyse et l’environnement, Université de Lyon/CNRS, 2 avenue Albert Einstein, 69626, Villeurbanne Cedex, France,


European COST action CM0903 (UBIOCHEM) is acknowledged for support.

1.1 Introduction

Extensive literature surveys on biomass conversion to chemicals were recently published [1–9] revealing the rapid development of new catalytic systems and reaction media adapted to the structure of biomolecules. The present chapter deals with the design and performance of metal catalysts employed for the conversion of platform molecules obtained from carbohydrates, triglycerides, and terpenes into chemicals that are either already synthesized from fossil resources or consisting of new bioproducts with no synthetic counterpart. Bifunctional metal catalysts converting biopolymers such as starch, cellulose, and hemicellulose into a mixture of chemicals that could be employed for the manufacture of high tonnage end-products such as paper additives, paints, resins, foams, surfactants, lubricants, and plasticizers will also be considered [7,10]. Because the literature on catalytic biomass conversion is presently bursting and because a complete survey of catalytic systems was not possible in the framework of this chapter, focus will be laid on selected examples of biomass conversion catalyzed by metals, particularly hydrogenation, hydrogenolysis, and oxidation reactions.

1.2 Hydrogenation Catalysts

1.2.1 Catalysts for the Hydrogenation of Carbohydrates and Derivatives Hydrogenation of Glucose

More than 800,000 ton/y of sorbitol are produced industrially by catalytic hydrogenation of D-glucose, a cheap and abundant feedstock obtained from starch-containing crops such as maize, wheat, and potatoes. Sorbitol is used as additives in many industrial products, particularly in the food, cosmetic, and paper industries, and as building block for the synthesis of various fine chemicals including vitamin C (Figure 1.1). Highly active and stable metal catalysts are required for the industrial hydrogenation of glucose. Because selectivities higher than 99.5% to sorbitol at total glucose conversion are required for a number of applications epimerization of sorbitol to mannitol and Cannizarro reaction to gluconic acid should be avoided. The requirements for a long-term stability toward metal leaching and sintering were well documented, but the leaching of supporting materials in highly chelating reaction media was often overlooked in the literature. Also, the deactivation of metal catalysts by impurities in glucose feedstock, or formed by side reactions, and the procedures of catalyst regeneration were seldom studied. Although sorbitol is a high tonnage commodity product, hydrogenation reactions are still mainly carried out discontinuously in stirred tank reactors at 373–453 K and 5–15 MPa of H2 pressure in the presence of suspended catalyst powders. The design of catalyst formulation to replace the prevailing batchwise production by continuous processes is not well documented.

Figure 1.1 Glucose hydrogenation to sorbitol.

Most of the current industrial production of sorbitol is performed in stirred tank reactors loaded with Raney-type nickel catalysts (sponge nickel, skeletal nickel) promoted by various transition metals. Nickel catalysts present the advantage of a relatively low price and because of their high density they are easily separated from the liquid phase by sedimentation possibly accelerated by magnetic methods. Raney-type nickel catalysts are often prepared from Ni–Al–M alloys where M stands for transition metals such as Mo, W, or Cr, added to nickel-aluminum melt at a concentration of 0.5–5 mol%. The alloy is then attacked with alkali solutions to remove part of the aluminum and yield highly porous, tri- or polymetallic catalysts. Alternatively, metal promoters could be added to skeletal nickel by various methods of surface deposition. The presence of metal promoters favors the stability of the porous framework and accelerates reaction rates [at 403 K, 8 MPa) and decreased with time because of the progressive leaching of nickel and support in the reaction medium. Ni–B/SiO2 amorphous catalyst prepared by reduction with KBH4 aqueous solutions exhibited a higher activity (TOF: 0.024 s−1) than commercial Raney-type catalysts (TOF: 0.013 s−1) [16]. Ni/SiO2 catalysts prepared by various methods deactivated by metal leaching, metal sintering, and support degradation [17]. Ni/SiO2 catalysts prepared by impregnation with nickel ethylenediamine complexes did not leach significantly after 5 h on stream, but they were slightly less active than commercial catalysts and less selective to sorbitol [18].

Because nickel catalysts are prone to leaching and sintering and because their activities are comparatively low, the present trend is to develop industrial processes based on supported ruthenium catalysts. Comparison of the specific activities measured on nickel and ruthenium catalysts under the same reaction conditions showed that ruthenium was 20–50 times more active than nickel per mass of metal. Specific reaction rates measured over various ruthenium catalysts are given in ) and selective to sorbitol (99.5% at 99.7% conversion) and could be easily recycled. The catalytic performances were even better with 10 wt.% Pt/ACC catalysts (Table 1.1). In most studies the selectivity to sorbitol was higher than 98% at total glucose conversion, but the selectivity decreased as the time of contact of catalyst with sorbitol solution increased because sorbitol was subject to further conversion to mannitol. Thus, the selectivity decreased as the time of contact with a Ru/C catalyst loaded in a trickle-bed reactor was increased beyond 100% conversion [19]; however, using a Pt–Ru/C bimetallic catalyst containing 1.6 wt.% of ruthenium and 0.2 wt.% of platinum it was possible to maintain a selectivity higher than 99% even after a long contact time. After long time on stream in the trickle-bed reactor, a Ru/Al2O3 catalyst deactivated because of structural modification of alumina and of ruthenium poisoning by sulfur compounds, gluconic acid, and deposition of iron atoms leaching from the reactor walls [22]. The loss of conversion from 99.9% to 98% experienced by a Ru/Al2O3 catalyst after 1080 h on stream was also attributed to the poisoning of ruthenium by metallic species leached out from the reactor walls [17]. A 3.7% loss of activity was experienced by a 1.6% Ru/C catalyst after 596 h on stream in a trickle-bed reactor, but the selectivity to sorbitol remained stable at 99.3% and no leaching or sintering of ruthenium was detected [19]. However, glucose solutions employed industrially are liable to contain more impurities than those used in academic investigations leading to a faster deactivation because of the deposition of organic species on the catalyst surfaces. Thus, an industrial 5% Ru/C catalyst lost 25% of its activity after 300 h on stream as a low purity grade glucose solution was hydrogenated in a trickle-bed reactor [23]; a partial recovery of catalyst activity was obtained by oxidation with diluted hydrogen peroxide solutions of the organic species deposited on the catalyst surface.

Table 1.1

Reaction Data on Glucose Hydrogenation Over Ruthenium Catalysts Hydrogenation of Fructose

The hydrogenation of fructose leads to sorbitol and mannitol which has a high added value as low caloric sweetener (Figure 1.2). The challenge was to maximize by an appropriate choice of metal catalysts and reaction conditions the yield to mannitol. Sorbitol and mannitol are formed by hydrogenation of two different cyclic forms of fructose and copper catalysts favor the formation of mannitol [27]; the selectivity ratio (mannitol formed/fructose converted) was 0.8 on Cu/SiO2 catalysts while this ratio was close to 0.5 for other supported metal catalysts. The kinetics of fructose hydrogenation over a copper catalyst (61 wt.% CuO and 39 wt.% ZnO) in aqueous solutions were studied in a batch reactor operating at 35–65 bar and between 90 and 130 °C [28]; the mannitol selectivity was within 60–68% and improved slightly as the hydrogen pressure increased or the reaction temperature decreased. The sonification during fructose hydrogenation reaction enhanced the reaction rate over Cu/SiO2 and retarded catalyst deactivation, but had no influence on selectivity to mannitol [29]. Fructose hydrogenation was carried out over various Raney-type nickel and copper catalysts [30]; copper was less active than nickel, but favored the production of mannitol over sorbitol by a 2:1 ratio. Because copper catalysts have a low hydrogenation activity, attempts have been made to use more active ruthenium or platinum catalysts modified by metal promoters favoring mannitol selectivity. Thus, the selectivity to mannitol increased from 47% to 63% on Pt/C catalysts promoted by deposition of 1 wt.% tin on a commercial 5 wt.% Pt/C catalyst, but the catalyst activity decreased [31].

Figure 1.2 Hydrogenation of fructose. Hydrogenation of Xylose and Furfural

The acid-catalyzed hydrolysis of xylan-type hemicelluloses present in soft woods and straw yields C5 sugars such as xylose, which can be further dehydrated to furfural (Figure 1.3). The hydrogenation of xylose into xylitol, a polyol widely employed as food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical additives, is achieved industrially in the presence of promoted Raney-type nickel catalysts affording up to 98% yield, but catalysts deactivate by promoter leaching and surface poisoning. A slow deactivation was observed as catalysts were submitted to continuous ultrasound irradiation [32]. Ru/C catalysts exhibited a higher activity than Raney nickel and were less prone to deactivation. Thus 40 wt.% aqueous solutions of xylose were hydrogenated in a continuous reactor packed with Ru/SiO2 and Ru/ZrO2 catalysts affording a 99.9% yield to xylitol [33].

Figure 1.3 Hydrogenation of xylose and furfural.

Furfural produced industrially by combined hydrolysis and dehydration of agricultural wastes or xylose on acid catalysts is hydrogenated industrially to furfuryl alcohol in the liquid or vapor phase over copper-chromite catalysts (C bonds. The vapor phase hydrogenation at 473 K afforded a 98% yield over Cu–Co/SiO2 [34] or over Cu–MgO [35]. The liquid phase hydrogenation of furfural over supported Pt–Sn0.3 catalyst prepared by controlled surface reactions of tin on Pt-catalyst yielded 98% of fufuryl alcohol [36]. A switchable system based on two consecutive fixed-bed flow reactors loaded with copper chromite and Pd/C catalysts, respectively, was designed to achieve the hydrogenation of furfural in supercritical CO2 [37]; depending on temperature and H2-concentration, furfural was hydrogenated selectively to furfuryl alcohol (97% yield), tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol (96% yield), 2-methylfuran (90% yield), 2-methyltetrahydrofuran (82% yield), and furan (98% yield).

The vapor phase decarbonylation of furfural to furan was performed in a fixed-bed reactor at 260 °C on Pd/Al2O3 catalysts loaded with potassium carbonate to promote the decarbonylation and suppress hydrogenation side reactions [38]; for an optimum 8 wt.% potassium loading, a 99.5% yield to furan was obtained. A continuous hydrogenation of furan in supercritical CO2 was achieved on 5 wt.% Pd-catalyst supported on aminopolysiloxane [39]; a 96% selectivity to THF at 98% conversion of furan was achieved while 1-butanol was the only side product formed by hydrogenolysis reactions. The hydrogenation of furan to THF was studied over Pt(1 1 1) and Pt(1 0 0) single-crystal surfaces and size-controlled 1.0, 3.5, and 7.0 nm Pt nanoparticles [40]. Hydrogenation of 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural

An extensive review of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) production by dehydration of fructose and other carbohydrates and its use as a building block for chemical synthesis was published [4]. The main products obtained by catalytic hydrogenation of HMF over supported metal catalysts under various conditions are given in Figure 1.4. 2,5-dimethylfuran (2,5-DMF) was obtained with a 71% yield by vapor phase hydrogenolysis of 10 wt.% HMF in 1-butanol solution in a flow reactor loaded with Cu–Ru/C catalyst [41]. A 95% yield to 2,5-DMF was obtained by heating a solution of HMF in refluxing tetrahydrofuran in the presence of formic acid, H2SO4, and Pd/C catalyst [42]. The hydrogenation of HMF dissolved in [EMIM]Cl and acetonitrile at 393 K under 62 bar of H2 pressure over Pd/C resulted in a 32% selectivity to 2,5-DMF at 47% conversion [43]. 2,5-dimethyltetrahydrofuran was obtained with a 79% yield from fructose by hydrogenation in H2O/toluene/HI mixture in the presence of RhCl3 catalyst [44].

Figure 1.4 Hydrogenation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural. Hydrogenation of Levulinic Acid

Levulinic acid is obtained industrially with a 60% yield by combined acid-catalyzed hydrolysis and dehydration of cellulose and hemicellulose with the transient formation of HMF [45]. The hydrogenation to γ-valerolactone (GVL) (Figure 1.5) was extensively studied because of the unique physical and chemical properties of GVL which is an ideal liquid for use as a solvent, as an intermediate in the chemical industry, or for energy storage [46]. GVL was obtained with a 97% yield by hydrogenation of levulinic acid at 150 °C over a 5 wt.% Ru/C catalyst [47]. A continuous conversion over Ru/SiO2 catalyst in supercritical CO2 resulted in a 99% yield and allowed an easy separation of GVL from water [48]. Pt/TiO2 or Pt/ZrO2 catalysts afforded a 95% yield to GVL with marginal deactivation in a continuous reactor [49]. Vapor phase hydrogenation in a continuous fixed-bed reactor over 5 wt.% Ru/C catalysts afforded a 100% GVL yield for up to 240 h on stream without loss in activity [50]. The hydrogenation of levulinic acid to GVL was performed using formic acid as hydrogen donor in the presence of ruthenium-phosphorous complexes immobilized on SiO2 [51]. The reduction of LA and its esters to GVL was also accomplished by catalytic transfer hydrogenation over various metal oxide catalysts using secondary alcohols as hydrogen donors [52]; ZrO2 was highly active in both batch and continuous flow reactor studies affording up to 80% yield to GVL.

Figure 1.5 Hydrogenation of levulinic acid. Hydrogenation of Succinic Acid

The bulk of succinic acid (SA) production is currently obtained from maleic anhydride produced by oxidation of n-butane or butadiene, but recent advances in fermentation from carbohydrates and purification technologies succeeded to make bio-based succinic acid economically attractive. The hydrogenation of succinic acid leads to 1,4-butanediol (BDO), γ-butyrolactone (GBL), and tetrahydrofuran (THF) that have a well-established market (Figure 1.6).The hydrogenation of succinic anhydride to GBL was achieved with a 97% selectivity at 97% conversion on Au/TiO2 catalysts promoted by small amounts of platinum favoring H2 dissociation [53]. A 54% yield to GBL was obtained on Pd-catalysts supported on mesoporous aerogels and a correlation was established between the density of acidic sites and the final yield to GBL [54]. The selectivity to BDO, GBL, and THF was tuned by a proper choice of metal catalyst supported on Starbon® mesoporous carbon [55,56]; thus, Rh/Starbon® exhibited a 90% selectivity to BDO at 60% conversion while Ru/Starbon® was highly selective to THF.

Figure 1.6 Hydrogenation of succinic acid.

Bio-sourced succinate obtained by fermentation is subjected to various purification technologies to eliminate proteins and organic acids present in fermentation broths, but remaining impurities are liable to poison the activity or modify the selectivity of catalysts. Thus the hydrogenation rate of bio-succinic acid over Pd–Re/C catalysts at 160 °C under 150 bar of H2-pressure was lower than on synthetic SA (100% conversion after 83 h vs. 46.5 h) and a lower selectivity to BDO (42% vs. 62%) was observed at 75% conversion [57]. A one-pot synthesis yielding 80% of 2-pyrrolidone was achieved by reacting succinic anhydride and ammonia in water solution at 250 °C under 120 bar pressure over Au/TiO2 catalysts [53]. Hydrogenation of Lactic Acid

Lactic acid (LA) produced by fermentation of carbohydrates was hydrogenated to 1,2-propanediol (PDO) over Cu/SiO2 catalyst in vapor phase at 473 K affording a 88% yield [58] (Figure 1.7). A 65% selectivity at 95% LA conversion was achieved over Cu-catalysts prepared from copper hydroxysilicate catalysts [59]. The liquid phase hydrogenation of LA at 100–170 °C and 7–14 MPa H2-pressure over 5 wt.% Ru/C catalyst afforded an 86% yield to PDO [60]. The effect on the activity of Ru/C catalysts of residual fermentation impurities in LA has been studied [61]; whereas refined LA exhibited a stable conversion to PDO, and partially refined LA showed a steep decline in PDO production. The addition of model impurities to refined LA, such as organic acids, sugars, and inorganic salts, has little effect on conversion, while amino-acids (alanine, cysteine, methionine) resulted in irreversible catalyst deactivation (see Figure 1.7).

Figure 1.7 Hydrogenation of lactic acid. Hydrogenation of Arabinonic Acid

There is a great interest to convert C6 carbohydrates available in large supply into C5 or C4 polyols which are valuable food or care product additives. Thus, glucose can be converted via a two-step process to arabitol. The first step is an oxidative decarboxylation of glucose into arabinonic acid in the presence of soluble basic catalysts followed by the catalytic hydrogenation of arabinonic acid in equilibrium with two lactones to obtain arabitol (Figure 1.8). 20 wt.% aqueous solutions of arabinonic acid were hydrogenated on 5 wt.% Ru/C and 2.8 wt.% Ru/TiO2 catalysts at 100 °C in a batch reactor [62]; the highest selectivity of 98.9% at 98% conversion was obtained on small Ru-particles and by addition of traces of anthraquinone-2-sulfonate preventing dehydroxylation reactions to deoxy-products.

Figure 1.8 Arabinonic acid hydrogenation.

1.2.2 Metal Catalysts for the Hydrogenation of Fatty Compounds

Triglycerides obtained from seeds or possibly from algae are concurrently employed for food (fats and oils), biodiesel production, and synthesis of oleochemicals such as surfactants, lubricants, plasticizers, and polymers. Figure 1.9 describes schematically the most common hydrogenation processes catalyzed by metals. The hydrogenation of triglycerides to edible oils and fats is still mainly conducted at high temperatures on nickel catalysts with the risks of metal leaching in food products and isomerization of cis to trans fatty compounds which favors bad cholesterol and coronary diseases. The replacement of nickel by platinum-group metal catalysts avoids these major drawbacks [63–65]. Thus, sunflower and canola oils were hydrogenated at 80–130 °C under 3.6–9.3 bar of H2 over a novel Pd-catalyst consisting of palladium nanoparticles highly dispersed on mesostructured silica material [64,65]; a 93% selectivity toward the formation of monoene with only 7% of trans 18:1 was obtained.

Figure 1.9 Hydrogenation of fatty compounds. Hydrogenation and Isomerization of C C Bonds

Nickel and copper catalysts were employed extensively in the industrial hydrogenation of fatty acids [2]. The selective hydrogenation of ethylenic bond preserving the carboxylic functionalities and cis configuration of fatty acids was best achieved with palladium catalysts. The hydrogenation of linoleic acid (cis-9,cis-12 octadecadienoic acid) was aimed at increasing the monohydrogenation to oleic acid while decreasing the formation of trans isomers. A 92% yield to oleic acid with a cis/trans ratio of 70/30 was achieved with unsupported 4 nm Pd-particle suspended in water-dimethylformamide solution [66]. Iridium or bimetallic catalysts were also used to decrease the probability of cis/trans isomerization. In the monohydrogenation of linoleic acid, the cis/trans ratio was four times larger as the Ir-particles were located in the pores of mesoporous FSM-16 rather than exposed on the surface of a non-porous SiO2 [67]; the selectivity was attributed to the inhibition of isomerization within the limited space between Ir-particles and the pore walls of FSM-16. The catalytic hydrogenation of linoleic acid was studied over several Pd- and Ru-catalysts as well as some bimetallic catalysts to achieve the complete conversion of linoleic acid to stearic acid [68]; the best catalyst was 5 wt.% Pd/C, whereas 5 wt.% Ru/C catalysts gave only a 90% yield to stearic acid because of catalyst deactivation.

Metal catalysts on various supports were used for the isomerization at 80–120 °C of linoleic acid (cis-9,cis-12) to conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) such as cis-9,trans-11 and trans-10,cis-12 which exhibit antioxidative and anticarcinogenic properties in food products [2,69]; ruthenium and nickel showed the best isomerization properties whereas palladium favored the hydrogenation reaction. Supported gold catalysts on various oxides, activated carbon, and titanium silicalite TS-1 were used for the isomerization of linoleic acid (cis-9,cis-12 octadecadienoic acid) to CLA in the presence of hydrogen at 165 °C in a batch reactor [70]; the highest selectivity toward CLA (78%) was obtained over a 2 wt.% Au/TS-1 catalyst. Hydrogenation of Fatty Esters to Fatty Alcohols

C bonds. Thus, the hydrogenation of methyl-9-octadecenoate (methyl oleate) into 9-octadecen-1-ol (oleyl alcohol) was studied over alumina-supported Ru–Sn–B catalyst systems prepared by reduction of Ru and Sn chlorides with sodium borohydride [O bond. An 80% yield to oleyl alcohol was obtained in the presence of Ru–Sn catalyst prepared by a sol-gel method [72]. The hydrogenation of methyl oleate over Ru–Sn–B/Al2O3 (Sn/Ru = 4) prepared by reduction of Ru and Sn chlorides with sodium borohydride afforded a 75% yield to oleyl alcohol [73]; the selectivity to oleyl alcohol was promoted by SnOx species interacting with surface ruthenium atoms. Similarly, the selectivity to unsaturated alcohol over Co–Sn/ZnO catalysts was attributed to the interaction of cobalt with (SnOx)2 species [74]. Because the transfer of hydrogen to the metal surface limits the kinetics of hydrogenation of fatty compounds, reactions were carried out in supercritical fluids. Thus, the hydrogenation of fatty acid methyl esters to fatty alcohols was conducted over a commercial copper catalyst (Cu-1985T) using propane as supercritical fluid [75]; a complete conversion was achieved at 240 °C within 2–3 s residence time, which was several orders of magnitude shorter than in conventional reaction media. Egg-shell catalysts should preferably be used to improve mass transfer at high substrate concentration [76]. The hydrogenation of fatty acid methyl esters to fatty alcohols over copper-chromite or chromium-free catalysts was carried out in CO2 and C3H8 supercritical fluids [77]; a 95% yield to fatty alcohols was achieved at 250 °C giving significant amounts of C16 and C18 n-alkanes in supercritical propane. Hydrogenation of Fatty Nitriles to Fatty Amines

Fatty amines are used as flotation, anticaking and water-repellent agents, corrosion inhibitors, fuel additives, and intermediates for quaternary ammonium salts. They are produced by selective hydrogenation usually over base-metal catalysts of fatty nitriles obtained by reaction of fatty acids or fatty acid esters with ammonia. Most of the processes described in the patent literature were based on copper-chromite, cobalt, and nickel catalysts [1,78]. The selectivity to primary, secondary, or tertiary amines depended more upon process conditions than upon the choice of catalysts and promoters. Thus the formation of primary amines was favored by the addition of ammonia while the selectivity to secondary and tertiary ammine was favored by a continuous removal of ammonia.

1.2.3 Metal Catalysts for the Conversion of Wood Derivatives

In addition to cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, a number of potential raw materials for the production of chemicals are extracted from wood, particularly tall oil and turpentine oil. Tall oil is a by-product of the Kraft pulping process containing fatty acids, resin acids, and sterols, while turpentine oil exuding from soft wood such as pine trees contains mainly terpenes such as α- and β-pinene. The catalysts employed for the conversion of molecules contained in tall oil and turpentine oil have been extensively reviewed [C hydrogenation activity.

Figure 1.10 Hydrogenation of abietic acid.

β-sitosterol extracted from tall oil was hydrogenated to β-sitostanol (Figure 1.11) which is used to produce stanol fatty esters incorporated in food products to decrease cholesterol levels. The hydrogenation of β-sitosterol was achieved over a 5 wt.% Pd-catalyst supported on poly(acrylic acid) grafted polyethylene fiber yielding β-sitostanol, in stereochemically pure form [79]. β-sitosterol hydrogenation was studied over a mesoporous 4 wt.% Pd/C (Sibunit) catalyst yielding higher conversions and experiencing less deactivation than a microporous 5 wt.% Pd/C catalyst [80]; the deactivation was attributed to phosphorus and sulfur poisoning and coke deposition.

Figure 1.11 β-sitosterol hydrogenation.

The three main starting materials employed in terpene chemistry for the synthesis of flavors and fragrances (F&F) are α-pinene and β-pinene, extracted from turpentine oil and limonene extracted from citrus oil. The gas phase dehydrogenation of α-pinene was achieved on palladium catalysts supported on acidic support to produce p-cymene a precursor of p-cresol and various F&Fs (Figure 1.12). The reaction combines an isomerization on acidic sites and a dehydrogenation step on metal sites. A 67% yield to p-cymene was obtained by dehydrogenation of α-pinene at 300 °C in a continuous fixed-bed flow reactor in the presence of 0.5 wt.% Pd/SiO2 [81]. Under similar conditions, but starting from limonene p-cymene was obtained with a 97% yield with no deactivation after 500 h [82]. p-cymene was produced under similar reaction conditions with a nearly 100% yield from a mixture of di-pentenes [83].

Figure 1.12 Dehydrogenation of α-pinene and limonene.

1.3 Metal Catalysts for Dehydroxylation and Hydrogenolysis Reactions

The catalytic conversion of oxygen-rich biomolecules into lower oxygenates on metal catalysts follows different reaction pathways. Modified ruthenium and copper catalysts were able to convert polyols such as sorbitol, xylitol, and glycerol to valuable diols and triols by various reaction pathways such as dehydration-hydrogenation, and retro-Michael, and retro-Claisen reactions [84–86]. The various mechanisms of dehydroxylation involve bi- or multifunctional catalysts including acidic or basic sites and metallic sites [3].

1.3.1 Hydrogenolysis/Dehydroxylation of Sorbitol and Xylitol

The hydrogenolysis of sorbitol on nickel and ruthenium catalysts yielded C2–C3 hydro-genolysis products such as ethylene glycol (EG), 1,2-propane diol (1,2-PDO), and glycerol (GL) (Figure 1.13). The hydrogenolysis of sorbitol over Ru-catalyst in basic medium proceeded via a reverse aldolization yielding a mixture of C2–C3 products, while in neutral medium at lower temperatures hydrogenolysis occurred at the middle of the carbon chain yielding 1,2 PDO and glycerol [84]. Sorbitol hydrogenolysis on 6 wt.% Ni–NaY catalyst afforded a 62% and 14% selectivity to 1,2-PDO and EG, respectively, while over Pt–NaY, GL was the major product (62%) [87]. Sorbitol hydrogenolysis carried out over 3 wt.% Ru/CNF prepared by incipient wetness impregnation on carbon nanofibers and promoted with calcium hydroxide yielded mainly EG (19.3%) and 1,2-PDO (31.9%) [88].

Figure 1.13 Hydrogenolysis/dehydroxylation of sorbitol.

Because the hydrogenolysis activity of ruthenium, nickel, and platinum catalysts was too high, copper catalysts were employed to produce a mixture of C6 polyols suitable for the manufacture of alkyd resins [89]; 21 wt.% sorbitol aqueous solutions were converted into a mixture of C4–C6 diols, triols, and tetrols containing 63% of deoxyhexitols at 180 °C under 130 bar H2-pressure over a commercial CuO–ZnO (33:65) catalyst usually employed for alcohol synthesis from syngas. Sorbitol can be dehydrated into cyclic ethers such as isosorbide in the presence of bimetallic Ru–Cu catalysts in the presence of hydrogen atmosphere which avoided the formation of degradation products [86]. Sorbitol solutions acidified with propionic acid were cyclodehydrated in the presence of 3 wt.% Pd/C catalyst into a mixture of cyclic ethers containing 38% of isosorbide, and 58% of tetrols (2,5-anhydromannitol, 1,4-anhydrosorbitol, and 2,5-anhydroiditol) [90]; the mixture of polyols obtained either by dehydroxylation or by dehydration was successfully employed without any further separation or purification to substitute pentaerythritol and other synthetic polyols for the manufacture of polyesters and alkyd resins. The dehydration of 5 wt.% sorbitol solution at 518 K under flowing hydrogen in a continuous fixed-bed reactor loaded with Pt/Al2O3–SiO2 catalyst was 100% selective to isosorbide at 20% conversion [91]. Xylitol widely available by combined hydrogenolysis/hydrogenation of hemicellulose is a promising feedstock for the production of smaller polyols. The hydrogenolysis of 10 wt.% xylitol solution was carried out at 473 K under 40 bar over a 4 wt.% Ru/C catalyst in the presence of Ca(OH)2 [92]; the selectivities to EG, 1,2PDO, and GL were 32.4, 24.9, and 9.6%, respectively, at 20% conversion.

1.3.2 Dehydroxylation of Glycerol Glycerol to 1,2-Propanediol (1,2-PDO)

Glycerol obtained as a co-product of the transesterification of triglycerides to fatty acid esters (biodiesel) is an attractive feedstock for the synthesis of 1,2-PDO, which depending on its purity is used as industrial fluid or in cosmetic and food applications. The mechanism of glycerol dehydroxylation does not involve C–OH bond rupture on metal surface but rather proceeds via a dehydration step leading to acetol followed by the hydrogenation of acetol to 1,2-PDO (Figure 1.14). This mechanism is generally accepted when the reaction proceeds under acidic conditions, but in alkaline medium the first step is a dehydrogenation to glyceraldehyde followed by dehydration and hydrogenation steps [3]. A combined experimental and theoretical study of glycerol dehydroxylation on rhodium catalysts demonstrated that the initial reaction step was indeed the dehydrogenation to glyceraldehyde [93].

Figure 1.14 Dehydroxylation of glycerol to 1,2-propane diol and 1,3-propane diol.

Commercial CuO–ZnO catalysts were almost 100% selective to 1,2-PdO at low glycerol conversion [94]. CuO–ZnO catalysts prepared by homogeneous co-precipitation with varying Cu/Zn atomic ratios exhibited selectivities exceeding 93% [95]. The selectivity of a CuO/ZnO catalyst prepared by an oxalate gel method was selective (90%) and more active than a CuO/ZnO catalyst prepared by co-precipitation [96]. A Cu/ZnO/Ga2O3 catalyst prepared by co-precipitation afforded a 80% yield to 1,2-PDO and no deactivation was observed after four consecutive runs [97]. The liquid phase hydrogenolysis of glycerol over CuO–ZnO (60:40) catalyst at 200 °C under 5 MPa H2 pressure resulted in a 98% selectivity at 52% conversion [98]. A 98% selectivity at 80% conversion was obtained at 180 °C and 3.0 MPa of H2 over a Cu0.4/Mg5.6Al2O8.6 catalyst prepared by thermal treatment of hydrotalcite [99]. Glycerol solutions (10 wt.%) were converted with a 89.7% selectivity to l,2-PDO at 90.1% conversion in a continuous reactor over Cu/Al2O3 catalysts containing different loadings of H4SiW12O40 acting as acidic promoter which enhanced Cu-reducibility and glycerol dehydration [100]. Glycerol was converted to 1,2-PDO with a 96% selectivity at 100% conversion over a Cu/Al2O3 catalyst in a fixed-bed, down-flow reactor operating with a temperature gradient allowing to carry out the dehydration of glycerol into acetol at 200 °C, and the hydrogenation of acetol at 120 °C [101]. Silver catalyst supported on γ-Al2O3 catalysts afforded a 96% selectivity to glycerol at 46% conversion [102]. Ru-catalysts were much more active, but less selective to 1,2-PDO than Cu-catalysts because of the higher hydrogenolysis activity of ruthenium for C–C bond breaking. In most investigations the maximum yield to 1,2-PDO was lower than 40%, but higher yields were obtained with additives. Thus 20 wt.% glycerol aqueous solution was converted at 453 K under 2.5 MPa of H2 pressure over a 5 wt.% Ru-catalyst supported on hydrotalcite modified with Ca and Zn which yielded 1-2-PDO with a 85.5% selectivity at 58.5% conversion [103]. A 28.4 wt.% Cu-4.8 wt.% Ru catalyst supported on carbon nanotubes was three times more active than monometallic copper catalysts and afforded a 86% selectivity to 1,2-PDO at near total conversion [104]; Ru-particles present on the external surface of the Cu-particles generated active hydrogen, which was transferred to the Cu-surface by hydrogen spillover. A 93.0% selectivity to 1,2-PDO at 92% glycerol conversion was obtained over a 2 wt.% Pt/hydrotalcite catalyst containing highly dispersed Pt-particles [105]. The selectivity of a 5 wt.% Pt/CaCO3 catalyst was switched from 1,2-PDO to lactic acid upon addition of boric acid [106]. Glycerol to 1,3-Propanediol (1,3-PDO)

(1,3-PDO) currently synthesized from ethylene oxide or by fermentation of sugar is mainly used to produce poly(trimethylene terephthalate) by copolymerization with terephthalic acid. Attempts have been made to produce 1,3-PDO by hydrogenolysis of glycerol, but the selectivity was much lower than that of 1,2-PDO. A selectivity to 1,3-PDO surpassing that of 1,2-PDO (1,3-PDO/1,2-PDO = 2) was achieved at low conversion in the presence of 0.3 wt.% Rh/C catalyst in sulfolane with tungstic acid added as selectivity promoter [94]; the mechanism proposed was a dehydration favored by the protonation of the secondary hydroxyl group and the subsequent hydrogenation of the resulting keto group (Figure 1.14c), but a dehydroxylation of the secondary hydroxyl group on rhodium surface could also occur while the two primary functions remain protected by chelating metal additives. A 24% yield at 85.8% conversion was obtained over a 2% Pt//WO3/ZrO2 catalyst prepared by co-impregnation of ZrO2 with H2PtCl6 and (NH4)6(H2W12O40) solutions as the reaction was carried out in 1,3-dimethyl-2-imidazolidinone (DMI) as solvent, at 443 K, under 8 MPa of H2 [107]. A 1,3-PDO/1,2-PDO ratio of 4 (11.0% yield at 31.6% conversion) was obtained on Pt//WO3/ZrO2 catalyst using a mixture of DMI and water as solvent [108]. The best results to date were achieved using a 4 wt.% Ir–ReO2/SiO2 catalyst prepared by impregnating SiO2 with aqueous solutions of H2IrCl6 and NH4ReO4 [109]; for Ir/Re = 1 a 38% yield to 1,3-PDO was obtained at 81% conversion and the catalyst was reused three times without change in rate and selectivity and without metal leaching.

1.3.3 Metal Catalysts for One-Pot Conversion of Polysaccharides

Polysaccharides are depolymerized by acid hydrolysis to their monomers (hexoses and pentoses), which are used as platform molecules for further catalytic conversions, but these two steps can be achieved in a one-pot reaction with bifunctional metal catalysts. Thus, starch was converted to sorbitol by combined hydrolysis-hydrogenation on metal catalysts supported on acidic support where Brönsted sites catalyze the hydrolysis of starch to glucose, which is hydrogenated on the metal (Figure 1.15). A 95% yield to sorbitol was obtained from starch in the presence of 3 wt.% Ru/HY catalyst [110]. The combined hydrolysis and hydrogenation of inulin to a mixture of sorbitol and mannitol was achieved at 100% conversion over a Ru/C catalyst where the carbon was oxidized to generate acidic sites [111].

Figure 1.15 Combined hydrolysis/hydrogenation of starch and cellulose.

Cellulose is difficult to depolymerize because it is based on β-1,4-glycosidic linkages and organized in microcrystallite domains. A number of investigations were aimed at producing directly hexitols or smaller polyols by one-pot combined hydrolysis/hydrogenation or hydrolysis/hydrogenolysis of cellulose in the presence of metal catalysts (Table 1.2) [112,113]. Cellulose was converted at 160 °C under 50 bar of H2 with a 84% selectivity to sorbitol at 72% conversion over a 5 wt.%-Ru/C catalyst suspended in 2.5 wt.% sulfuric acid solution [114]. Ball-milled cellulose suspended at 2 wt.% concentration in a solution of H4SiW12O40 heteropolyacid was converted with a 100% yield to hexitols (85% sorbitol + mannitol, 15% sorbitan) in the presence of Ru/C catalyst at 463 K under 9.5 MPa of hydrogen [115]. High cellulose conversions were also obtained using heteropolyacids in combination with Ru/C catalysts [116]. Attempts have been made to replace homogeneous catalysts by metal catalysts on acidic supports. The combined hydrolysis/hydrogenation of cellulose in the presence of 2.5 wt.% Pt/γ Al2O3 catalyst afforded a 31% yield to sorbitol [117]. Higher reaction rates and higher yields to hexitols (34.6% sorbitol, 11.4% mannitol, 13.4% sorbitan at 85.5% conversion) were obtained over a 4 wt.% Ru/C catalyst [118]; the protons generated from water dissociation at high temperatures were the source of acidity required for the hydrolysis reaction. This interpretation in terms of increased ionization constant of water was supported by systematic studies of cellulose conversion with or without catalysts and hydrogen [119]; thus, at 190 °C under 5 MPa of H2, a 45% conversion of cellulose was achieved without any catalysts. Cellulose of 33% crystallinity obtained by pretreatment with phosphoric acid was converted to hexitol with a 73% yield over 1 wt.% Ru/CNT catalyst where the carbon nanotubes were treated with nitric acid to generate acid sites [120]. A 94% yield to sorbitol at 100% cellulose conversion was obtained with a complex catalytic system based on Ru-nanoparticles in 1-n-butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride ([BMIM]Cl) using sodium formate as hydrogen donor