Conversion of sugars to ethylene glycol with nickel tungsten carbide in a fed-batch reactor: high productivity and reaction network elucidation
Bifunctional nickel tungsten carbide catalysis was used for the conversion of aqueous sugar solutions into short-chain polyols such as ethylene glycol. It is shown that very concentrated sugar solutions, viz. up to 0.2 kg L−1, can be converted without loss of ethylene glycol selectivity by gradually feeding the sugar solution. Detailed investigation of the reaction network shows that, under the applied reaction conditions, glucose is converted via a retro-aldol reaction into glycol aldehyde, which is further transformed into ethylene glycol by hydrogenation. The main byproducts are sorbitol, erythritol, glycerol and 1,2-propanediol. They are formed through a series of unwanted side reactions including hydrogenation, isomerisation, hydrogenolysis and dehydration. Hydrogenolysis of sorbitol is only a minor source of ethylene glycol. To assess the relevance of the fed-batch system in biomass conversions, both the influence of the catalyst composition and the reactor setup parameters like temperature, pressure and glucose addition rate were optimized, culminating in ethylene glycol yields up to 66% and separately, volume productivities of nearly 300 gEG L−1 h−1.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Conversion of biomass with heterogeneous catalysts