Green catalysis by nanoparticulate catalysts developed for flow processing? Case study of glucose hydrogenation
Heterogeneous catalysis, flow chemistry, continuous processing, green solvents, catalyst immobilization and recycling are some of the most relevant, emerging key technologies to achieve green synthesis. However, a quantification of potential effects on a case to case level is required to provide a profound answer, whether they can lead to a superior process compared to the industrial standard. To do so, holistic environmental assessment approaches are very useful tools providing insights and decision support during the process development phase. Herein, novel heterogeneous nanoparticulate ruthenium catalysts immobilized on hyperbranched polystyrene (HPS) and nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes (NCNT) were investigated with respect to their potential environmental impacts and improvements if utilized in an industrially highly relevant process, namely glucose hydrogenation to sorbitol. The results of a comparative Life Cycle Assessment of the alternative catalytic systems under consideration of RANEY® nickel as benchmark catalyst revealed that in particular Ru nanoparticles on porous HPS beads processed under flow-chemistry conditions have the potential to improve the greenness of the overall synthesis, but the concentration of glucose in the reaction mixture is in fact the most influential parameter.