Chemicals from renewable feedstocks
Cséfalvay, Edit Department of Chemical and Environmental Process Engineering, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Budapest, Hungary.
Horváth, István T. Department of Biology and Chemistry, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China.
- Lactic acid
- 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF)
- Levulinic acid
- Gamma-valerolactone (GVL)
- 2-Methyltetrahydrofuran (2-MeTHF)
- Essential oils
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
Renewable resources have been used as industrial feedstocks throughout human history, and only in the past two centuries have fossil fuels become the primary sources of carbon-based chemicals. Today, fossil resources are used to supply 96% of the synthetic organic chemicals produced in refineries and chemical production plants. The rapidly increasing population has resulted in a growing demand for chemicals to satisfy the needs of the simultaneously improving living standards. Consequently, one of the most important challenges is sustainable development; that is, how to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Because the depletion of fossils fuels will occur sooner or later, it is important to develop sustainable processes for the production of carbon-based chemicals. Renewable feedstocks will be the preferred resources for carbon-based chemicals in the future. A renewable feedstock can be defined as a natural resource that can replenish itself in a limited time, preferably within several months, although years, or at maximum a few decades, may be acceptable as well. Biomass is produced in nature by using sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into organic compounds, of which 75% is carbohydrate-based with an empirical formula of C6H12O6 [reaction (1)]. The simplest carbohydrates are the naturally occurring five- and six-carbon monosaccharides, which can be linked together by glycosidic bonds in various combinations to form di-, oligo-, and polysaccharides. The other main components are tannins, resins, fatty acids, and inorganic salts, as microcomponents. Various other substances can be found in biomass such as vitamins, dyes, flavors and aromatic essences, and certain oils and proteins. To use the different components as raw materials or intermediates, appropriate and economical processing technologies should be available in biorefineries by integrating the essential physical, chemical, and biological processes to convert natural raw materials to products such as basic chemicals, intermediates, fine chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.
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