Transforming furfural via a hydrogen cascade reaction to methyl furan, the future of aviation fuel through lab on a chip (JETFIRE)

Project: Research

Project Details


Furfural is an incredibly versatile platform molecule which is derived from various waste biomass sources. It is rapidly becoming a vital component of sustainable chemical feedstocks and fuel production; one key market sector for furfural derivates like Methyl Furan, is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). This market for furfural and therefore its derivates, is expected to grow into the multi £Bn range by 2030. Current technologies used for hydrogenating furfural are inefficient, potentially dangerous and lead to toxic waste streams. There is an urgent need for new technologies that are safer, reduce energy requirements, eliminate toxic wastes and improve utilisation of material inputs while increasing yields.

There are 2 aspects to this project - one spearheaded by U. of Hull which focuses on nano engineered continuous flow microdevices which can be utilised to overcome the deficiencies of current fixed bed/ slurry bed technologies. The extensive expertise at Hull for microfluidic flow chemistry, catalysis and advanced fabrication will be applied to the catalytic transformation of furfural into primarily methyl furan. Continuous flow microreactors, well known for their advantages over conventional technologies will be functionalised with engineered bimetallic nano catalysts and these will be compared with batch reaction systems. Devices will be produced using both conventional and novel 3D printing techniques to demonstrate scalability of the technology.

The 2nd aspect of this project - is to enhance the selectivity towards methyl furan from furfural by selective catalytic hydrogenation and the accompanying catalytic Dehydration (known combined as Hydro-deoxygenation, HDO); for this, TU's team has prepared bi-metallic (Pd and Ni) and Bi-Functional (metal + acid sites introduced in the SBA-15 mesoporous substrate). Metallic phase was characterized by XRD and TPR, while the SBA-15 with acid sites, characterized by Pyridine Adsorption and FTIR. The Hydrogenation and the Dehydration chemistries were performed in vapor phase, and preliminary design of vaporization of furfural, and condensation of product, along with measurement of products by mass spectrometer was accomplished at TU. This work can develop into a much larger project for better understanding and optimization of HDO of the furfural, and related biomass derived molecules.

Layman's description

This project aims to optimize the conversion of furfural (a biomass derivative) selectively to Methyl Furan (a key component for Sustainable Aviation Fuel), by modifying the catalysts using for a vapor phase chemical transformation, and also for designing and fabricating micro-reactor to achieve this conversion more effectively. The project was split between Teesside U., and U. of Hull.

Key findings

In this project, we were able to achieve the following - to make a workable micro-reactor device for producing methyl furan from furfural (U. of Hull), and to be able run the HDO of furfural in a vapor phase (fixed bed reactor) with Bimetallic Bifunctional high surface area catalysts (synthesized in the laboratory at TU).
Short titleHydrogenation of Furfural
Effective start/end date1/07/2131/05/22


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