The production of valuable biopolymer precursors from fructose†
The increasing demand for green chemical products calls for the exploration of sustainable and renewable carbon resources beyond fossil-based materials, whose utilization inevitably results in environmental concerns. As such, biomass valorisation has attracted increasing attention because biomass is the most widely available and sustainable carbon source. Among the available biomass-derived platform chemicals, 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) has long been regarded as an attractive candidate for the production of numerous value-added products. Nevertheless, the poor stability, and difficult separation and purification of HMF from fructose dehydration significantly inhibit its large-scale application. Herein, we report a two-step process for the direct production of two biopolymer precursors, 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) and 2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)furan (BHMF), from fructose, bypassing the isolation of HMF. FDCA and BHMF are much easier to separate and purify from the reaction mixture than HMF, and they both can replace petroleum-based counterparts in the syntheses of many industrially important polymers, ranging from polyesters to polyamides. Optimized fructose dehydration under microwave irradiation achieved a high HMF yield (83%) using a biphasic strategy. The subsequent electrocatalytic conversion of the resulting microwave reaction mixture allowed us to carry out either oxidation or reduction via readily tuning the electrochemical parameters to yield FDCA or BHMF, respectively. The integration of microwave irradiation and electrocatalysis in a flow electrolyzer enabled the direct conversion of readily available fructose to highly valuable FDCA and BHMF without the expensive and challenging step of HMF isolation, suggesting an economically attractive approach for upgrading carbohydrates.