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Production of dimethylfuran for liquid fuels from biomass-derived carbohydrates


Diminishing fossil fuel reserves and growing concerns about global warming indicate that sustainable sources of energy are needed in the near future. For fuels to be useful in the transportation sector, they must have specific physical properties that allow for efficient distribution, storage and combustion; these properties are currently fulfilled by non-renewable petroleum-derived liquid fuels. Ethanol, the only renewable liquid fuel currently produced in large quantities, suffers from several limitations, including low energy density, high volatility, and contamination by the absorption of water from the atmosphere. Here we present a catalytic strategy for the production of 2,5-dimethylfuran from fructose (a carbohydrate obtained directly from biomass or by the isomerization of glucose) for use as a liquid transportation fuel. Compared to ethanol, 2,5-dimethylfuran has a higher energy density (by 40 per cent), a higher boiling point (by 20 K), and is not soluble in water. This catalytic strategy creates a route for transforming abundant renewable biomass resources1,2 into a liquid fuel suitable for the transportation sector, and may diminish our reliance on petroleum.

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Figure 1: Normal boiling points of representative C 6 -hydrocarbons formed by removal of oxygen atoms from hexoses, compared to the normal boiling point of ethanol.
Figure 2: Schematic diagram of the process for conversion of fructose to DMF.
Figure 3: Effect of extraction ratio R on HMF selectivity from fructose for various organic solvents.


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This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Chemical and Transport Systems Division of the Directorate for Engineering, and the US Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences. We thank R. McClain and the UW Chemistry Department for access to their mass spectrometer. We also thank D. Simonetti, R. West, J. Chheda, E. Kunkes, S. Chen and S. Laumann for discussions and technical assistance.

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Correspondence to James A. Dumesic.

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Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-2 with an annotated version of Figure 2 in the main text summarizing the main findings of the work and a diagram depicting the vapor-phase hydrogenolysis flow reactor; Supplementary Methods used for compound quantification and characterization; Supplementary Discussion regarding vapor-phase hydrogenolysis experiments; Supplementary Tables 1-4 summarizing results regarding the use of additional inorganic salts for the dehydration experiments, as well as results for both liquid and vapor-phase hydrogenolysis experiments; Supplementary Notes with additional information regarding the estimation for the energy consumption in a distillation process for DMF and ethanol, toxicology data for DMF and additional references. (PDF 450 kb)

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Román-Leshkov, Y., Barrett, C., Liu, Z. et al. Production of dimethylfuran for liquid fuels from biomass-derived carbohydrates. Nature 447, 982–985 (2007).

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