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A new catalyst for making renewable feedstocks

By Tetsuo Satoh |

The compound 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) is an attractive raw material that can be used to create polyethylene furanoate, which is a bio-polyester with many applications. One way of making FDCA is through the oxidation of 5-hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF), a compound that can be synthesized from cellulose. However, the necessary oxidation reactions require the presence of a catalyst, and many of the catalysts studied thus far involve precious metals. It is known that manganese oxides combined with certain metals (such as iron and copper) can be used as catalysts. Now, a research team from the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Yokohama Campus, Japan; www.msl.titech.ac.jp/~hara/index-e.html) has reported that manganese dioxide (MnO2) can be used by itself as an effective catalyst if the crystals made with it have the appropriate structure.

The team, led by associate professor Keigo Kamata and professor Michikazu Hara, worked to determine which MnO2 crystal structure would have the best catalytic activity for making FDCA, and why. They inferred through computational analyses and the available theory that the structure of the crystals was crucial because of the steps involved in the oxidation of HMF. To verify this, they synthesized various types of MnO2 crystals, and then compared their performance through numerous analyses. Of these crystals, β-MnO2 was the most promising because of its active planar oxygen sites. Not only was its vacancy formation energy lower than that of other structures, but the material itself was proven to be very stable, even after being used for oxidation reactions on HMF.

The team proposed a new synthesis method to yield highly pure β-MnO2 with a large surface area in order to improve the FDCA yield and accelerate the oxidation process even further. “The synthesis of high-surface-area β-MnO2 is a promising strategy for the highly efficient oxidation of HMF with MnO2 catalysts,” says Kamata.

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