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Comment Processing & Handling

A hybrid acid catalyst makes levulinate from cellulose

By Tetsuo Satoh |

Ken-ichi Tominaga and colleagues at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST; Tsukuba, Japan; www.aist.go.jp) have developed a hybrid catalyst system that can be used to convert cellulose into levulinic acid. The catalyst consists of two types of acid: indium(III) trifluoromethanesulfonate (In(OTf)3), a Lewis acid; and p-toluenesulfonic acid (PTSA), a Brønstead acid. In laboratory experiments, the combination converts cellulose in methanol (at 180°C and 0.05 MPa nitrogen pressure) directly to methyl levulinate. Yields of 60–75% were achieved after 5 h for cellulose, and 60% using powdered cedar wood as starting material. The catalysts can be recycled, and only a few mole percent of the catalyst is required — two orders of magnitude below the 600 mol% needed for the existing sulfuric acid process. The researchers believe the new catalyst will open up new routes to making chemicals from cellulose. For example, levulinic acid can be used to synthesize 2-methyl-tetrahydroquinone, a precursor for a gasoline additive; alpha-methylene gamma-valerolactone, an alternative monomer of methyl methacrylate (MMA); alpha-amino levulinic acid, a raw material for a biodegradable herbicide; as…
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