Mesoporous carbon–silica solid acid catalysts for producing useful bio-products within the sugar-platform of biorefineries†
Useful bio-products are obtainable via the catalytic conversion of biomass or derived intermediates as renewable carbon sources. In particular, furanic ethers and levulinate esters (denoted bioEs) have wide application profiles and can be synthesised via acid-catalysed reactions of intermediates such as fructose, 5-hydroxymethyl-2-furaldehyde (HMF) and furfuryl alcohol (FA) with ethanol. Solid acid catalysts are preferred for producing the bioEs with environmental benefits. Furthermore, the versatility of the catalyst in obtaining the bioEs from different intermediates is attractive for process economics, and in the case of porous catalysts, large pore sizes can be beneficial for operating in the kinetic regime. Carbon-based materials are attractive acid catalysts due to their modifiable surface, e.g. with relatively strong sulfonic acid groups (SO3H). Considering these aspects, here, we report the preparation of mesoporous (SO3H)-functionalised-carbon/silica (C/S) composites with large pores and high amounts of acid sites (up to 2.3 mmol g−1), and their application as versatile solid acid catalysts for producing bioEs from fructose, HMF and FA. The mesoporous composites were prepared by activation of an organic compound deposited on the ordered mesoporous silicas MCF (mesostructured cellular foam) and SBA-15, where the organic compound (p-toluenesulfonic acid) acted simultaneously as the carbon and SO3H source. The atomic-level characterisation of the acid nature and strengths was performed by 31P solid-state NMR studies of an adsorbed base probe, in combination with FT-IR and XPS. Comparative catalytic studies showed that the C/S composites are interesting catalysts for obtaining bioEs in high yields, in comparison with classical solid acid catalysts such as sulfonic acid resin Amberlyst™-15 and nanocrystalline (large pore) zeolite H-beta.