Researchers Demonstrate Improved Production of Important Chemical Building Block from Glucose

Achievement date: 

Researchers at the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at Iowa State University, have demonstrated an improved reaction system for production of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) from glucose. This new approach builds on previous advances by means of a better extracting solvent and a catalyst combination allowing less acidic operation.


Economically viable processes for producing chemical intermediates from bio-mass-derived carbohydrates are vital steps toward introducing bio-based chemicals. HMF is a platform chemical that has received much attention because it  promises to be a primary building block for producing items, such as  polyesters and polyurethanes, which come from the petrochemical industry. The potential market for HMF derivatives is estimated  to exceed one billion pounds annually.


CBiRC researchers made two important advances that further improve  the economics of the previously developed process. First, a new solvent was identified that has a much higher partitioning coefficient for HMF than the previously used extracting solvent. Additionally, the HCl catalyst is nearly insoluble in this new solvent, so it more effectively stays in the aqueous phase. The second advancement is that water-stable homogeneous Lewis acid catalysts were identified, thus allowing operation of the reaction system at higher pH levels, which simplify the reactor-vessel construction materials. These advancements are the subject of a joint patent filing between two CBiRC partner institutions.