Much interest in biomass research of Sustainable Chemistry RPA

Two papers in most-read Green Chemistry list in 2015

23 June 2015

According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, two of the most downloaded papers published in 2015 in Green Chemistry (impact factor 8.020) are contributions from the UvA’s Research Priority Area (RPA) Sustainable Chemistry. Both papers relate to the ongoing research effort by the group of Prof. Gadi Rothenberg on catalytic biomass conversion.

The first paper, Lignin solubilisation and gentle fractionation in liquid ammonia, describes work done in the framework of the SmartMix CatchBio programme. This work is a collaboration with Wageningen University, performed at the UvA by PhD student Zea Strassberger (now Dr Strassberger working at Akzo Nobel), Dr Pepijn Prinsen and Dr Stefania Grecea. 

Lignin, the gluey stuff that holds trees together, is extremely difficult to solubilise. Using a special autoclave built at the UvA for this project, the team showed that liquid ammonia is an excellent solvent for various kinds of lignin - including kraft, organosolv, and elephant grass - giving beautiful wine-red solutions (see photo at the left). This in-house specialised equipment is one of the important advantages of the Sustainable Chemistry RPA.

Transition to biorenewable resources

The second paper, Catalytic routes towards acrylic acid, adipic acid and ε-caprolactam starting from biorenewables is a critical review written by MSc student Rolf Beerthuis under the supervision of Dr. Raveendran Shiju. It analyses the transition in bulk chemicals sourcing from crude oil to biorenewable resources. Importantly, the analysis covers both chemical and economical aspects, making this paper interesting reading material for both academia and industry.

Possible routes to acrylic acid. Green: viable biobased feedstocks; light blue: potential biobased platform chemicals; grey: existing petrochemical routes. Source: HIMS/HCSC.

The paper focuses on three important bulk chemicals: acrylic acid, adipic acid and ε-caprolactam (see figure). These are the key monomers for high-end polymers, and are all produced globally in excess of two million metric tons per year. The biobased routes for each target molecule are analysed separately, comparing the conventional processes with their sustainable alternatives. For each biotechnological and chemocatalytic route, current efficiencies and limitations are presented, as well as their current potential and prospects for future application. This combination of chemical and economical analysis is another key aspect of the Sustainable Chemistry RPA, which emphasises research that connects science, industry and society.

Published by  HIMS