Improved Method for the Production of Tetrahydrofuran from Biomass
Department of Energy
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Small Business Information
665 Amherst Road, Sunderland, MA, 01375-9420
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged:
AbstractTetrahydrofuran (THF) is a large volume commodity chemical used in the production of polytetramethylene ether glycol (PTMEG), a component of polyurethane stretch fibers (Spandex) and as an industrial solvent with applications in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) cements, pharmaceuticals and coatings. THF is currently produced from hydrocarbon feedstocks by complex, energy-intensiveprocesses. THF, as derived from biomass furfural, may be used as a drop-in substitute for THF produced from petroleum, as it is an exact molecular replacement. The technology also can convert 1,4 butanediol to THF. The overall goal of this Small Business Innovation Research is to commercialize a new technology to convert dilute aqueous furfural solutions into THF, at high selectivity and without pre-purification of the furfural. Specifically, the Phase I SBIR project is to establish the technical and economic feasibility of an innovative catalytic decarbonylation hydrogenation technology using reactive distillation to produce THF from a dilute aqueous solution containing furfural. Dilute solutions of furfural are commonly produced from acid hydrolysis of biomass. This process is commonly used in the paper industry and is an element of the production of cellulosic ethanol as it releases fermentable sugars in addition to furfural. Improved selectivity to THF will be achieved by the development of novel bifunctional catalysts, specifically designed for the decarbonylation and hydrogenation of furfural to THF with exceptionally high activity and selectivity. The program will assess the technical and economic feasibility of the application of novel catalysts to manufacture THF by reactive distillation at high selectivity. Commercial Applications and Other Benefits: Selective catalytic decarbonylation and hydrogenation of furfural will allow commercial production of THF from renewable hemicellulosic biomass feedstocks for the production of elastomer fibers, and industrial solvents. The technology can exist solely for THF manufacture or be integrated with cellulosic fermentation technology to capture the value of the furfural byproduct liberated through hydrolysis of biomass. This type of integration would support efforts to develop biorefineries, where biomass feedstocks such as wood chips, corn cobs, and stalks are processed to produce an array of fuels and chemicals. Development of commercially competitive biomass based technologies will reduce consumption of scarce hydrocarbon resources, and improve long term U.S. competitiveness in global markets.
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