Solid acids with SO3H groups and tunable surface properties: versatile catalysts for biomass conversion†
Acid catalysis plays an important role in biomass conversion processes for producing chemicals and fuels. We report a relatively simple procedure for synthesizing versatile, strong acid catalysts based on carbon and carbon–silica composites with sulfonic acid groups. The process involves chemical activation of a sulfonic acid organic precursor at low temperature. The synthesis conditions can be modified to tune the surface composition, texture, and the acid properties of the materials towards superior catalytic performances. Molecular level insights into the nature and strength of the acid sites were gained by combining high resolution XPS and 1H-decoupled 31P MAS NMR spectroscopy of adsorbed triethylphosphine oxide. These materials are effective acid catalysts for the conversion of different biomass-derived chemicals to useful bio products such as furanic ethers and levulinate esters.