Plant biomass can feed global chemical industry

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have developed a novel selective catalyst that allows the creation of several basic chemicals from biomass instead of petroleum.

Tokyo: Researchers from the University of Tokyo have developed a novel selective catalyst that allows the creation of several basic chemicals from biomass instead of petroleum.

This discovery may lead to the use of plant biomass as a basic feedstock for the chemical industry.

Lignin is a major component of plant dry matter and has the potential to replace petroleum as the primary source of basic aromatic chemicals such as BTX (benzene, toluene and xylene) and phenol.

"This study shows the potential of our catalysts for application to the mass use of lignin as feedstock for production of basic aromatic chemicals for the chemical industry, instead of using fossil fuels," explained lead researcher professor Kyoko Nozaki.

The new catalyst enables selective cleaving (hydrogenolysis) of carbon-oxygen (C-O) single bonds in phenols and aryl methyl ethers -- two of the main components of lignin.

Using their new catalyst, the research group accomplished selective C-O bond hydrogenolysis without also cleaving the aromatic rings for the first time ever.

"Our final goal is to contribute to the creation of a sustainable society that makes efficient use of renewable resources," the authors added.

The paper appeared in the journal Nature Communications.

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