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Managing Editor  | April 2017

Researchers build plastic precursor from renewable materials

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison demonstrated a process for creating 1,5-pentanediol, which is a plastic precursor to make polyurethane and polyester, from biomass in a method that is six times cheaper than previous efforts and could be a way forward in developing economically-viable ways of producing commodity chemicals from biomass.



Wisconsin researchers have found a way of using biomass to create plastics precursors.
(Wikimedia Commons)


According to a report on the school’s website, the researchers used the biomass’ inherent oxygen, which makes up about 40 percent of the material by weight (compared to less than 0.1 percent in petroleum oil) to create highly-oxygenated commodity chemicals.


The article continued, “The study’s foundational discovery, its new pathway for chemical production, also provides fundamental chemistry that could be applicable to a wide cross-section of products. For instance, the same pathway could be used to produce two other plastic precursors — 1,4 butanediol and 1,6-hexanediol — currently derived from petroleum and which together represent an annual market of more than $6 billion.”


Next, the research team will examine ways to scale the process for pilot plant testing and explore industry partners that would be interested in commodity chemicals created from biomass materials.


The research was recently published in ChemSusChem. The abstract stated:


“A process for the synthesis of 1,5-pentanediol (1,5-PD) with 84 % yield from furfural is developed, utilizing dehydration/hydration, ring-opening tautomerization, and hydrogenation reactions.


“Although this process has more reaction steps than the traditional direct hydrogenolysis of tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol (THFA), techno-economic analyses demonstrate that this process is the economically preferred route for the synthesis of biorenewable 1,5-PD. 2-Hydroxytetrahydropyran (2-HY-THP) is the key reaction pathway intermediate that allows for a decrease in the minimum selling price of 1,5-PD.


“The reactivity of 2-HY-THP is 80 times greater than that of THFA over a bimetallic hydrogenolysis catalyst. This enhanced reactivity is a result of the ring-opening tautomerization to 5-hydoxyvaleraldehyde and subsequent hydrogenation to 1,5-PD.”

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