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Issue 15, 2011
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Synthesis of glycerol carbonate from glycerol and urea with gold-based catalysts

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The reaction of glycerol with urea to form glycerol carbonate is mostly reported in the patent literature and to date there have been very few fundamental studies of the reaction mechanism. Furthermore, most previous studies have involved homogeneous catalysts whereas the identification of heterogeneous catalysts for this reaction would be highly beneficial. This is a very attractive reaction that utilises two inexpensive and readily available raw materials in a chemical cycle that overall, results in the chemical fixation of CO2. This reaction also provides a route to up-grade waste glycerol produced in large quantities during the production of biodiesel. Previous reports are largely based on the utilisation of high concentrations of metal sulfates or oxides, which suffer from low intrinsic activity and selectivity. We have identified heterogeneous catalysts based on gallium, zinc, and gold supported on a range of oxides and the zeolite ZSM-5, which facilitate this reaction. The addition of each component to ZSM-5 leads to an increase in the reaction yield towards glycerol carbonate, but supported gold catalysts display the highest activity. For gold-based catalysts, MgO is the support of choice. Catalysts have been characterised by XRD, TEM, STEM and XPS, and the reaction has been studied with time-on-line analysis of products via a combination of FT-IR spectroscopy, HPLC, 13C NMR and GC-MS analysis to evaluate the reaction pathway. Our proposed mechanism suggests that glycerol carbonate forms via the cyclization of a 2,3-dihydroxypropyl carbamate and that a subsequent reaction of glycerol carbonate with urea yields the carbamate of glycerol carbonate. Stability and reactivity studies indicate that consecutive reactions of glycerol carbonate can limit the selectivity achieved and reaction conditions can be selected to avoid this. The effect of the catalyst in the proposed mechanism is discussed.

Graphical abstract: Synthesis of glycerol carbonate from glycerol and urea with gold-based catalysts

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The article was received on 14 Oct 2010, accepted on 14 Dec 2010 and first published on 21 Jan 2011

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C0DT01389G
Citation: Dalton Trans., 2011,40, 3927-3937

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    Synthesis of glycerol carbonate from glycerol and urea with gold-based catalysts

    C. Hammond, J. A. Lopez-Sanchez, M. Hasbi Ab Rahim, N. Dimitratos, R. L. Jenkins, A. F. Carley, Q. He, C. J. Kiely, D. W. Knight and G. J. Hutchings, Dalton Trans., 2011, 40, 3927
    DOI: 10.1039/C0DT01389G

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