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RUB chemists develop new catalyst for bioplastics, with hydrogen as co-product

Chemists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have a new, low-cost catalyst for plastic production. It turns a biorefinery product into a starting material for the synthesis of plastics, which could represent a sustainable alternative to widespread PET. At the same time, hydrogen can also be formed during the reaction.

The researchers describe the work in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

In their study, the Bochum-based researchers present a nickel boride catalyst which—as it does not contain any precious metals—is readily available and affordable compared to many other catalysts. It can turn the biorefinery product HMF (5-hydroxymethyl-furfural) into FDCA (2,5-furandicarboxylic acid).

FDCA is interesting for the industry because it can be processed into polyesters. PEF, an alternative to PET, can thus be produced – and all of this is based on renewable raw materials, i.e. plants.

—Dr. Stefan Barwe

In the tests conducted by the Bochum-based team, the catalyst turned 98.5% of the starting material HMF into FDCA in half an hour; no waste products are created.

We have also designed the catalyst in such a way that it is effective under the same conditions under which hydrogen production is also successful.

—Dr. Barwe

The team also clarified the reaction step by step using electrochemical methods and infrared spectroscopy. For the first time, the chemists were able to track in real time which intermediate products turn HMF into FDCA.

Resources

  • Stefan Barwe, Jonas Weidner, Steffen Cychy, Dulce M. Morales, Stefan Dieckhöfer, Dennis Hiltrop, Justus Masa, Martin Muhler, Wolfgang Schuhmann (2018) “Electrocatalytic 5-(hydroxymethyl)furfural oxidation using high surface area nickel boride,” Angewandte Chemie International Edition doi:

Comments

HarveyD

Could this become an effective, lower cost clean way to recycle plastics and produce H2 as a by-product?

Engineer-Poet

If hydrogen is coming off, it means there's carbon lost as CO2 as well.  What's the mass-efficiency of this process?  Low, I suspect.

theblight

recycling plastic is another issue entirely. This is about creating a replacement for ethylene that is polymerized into polyethylene... I think that is what they are comparing here. From plants, they can start with sugar... glucose or fructose, to make the HFM then, when altered, it can be linked into a long polymer to create a bioplastic. the vast majority of such polymers, though, can't be simply de-polymerized.... thus the great difficulty of "recycling" plastic. once the units are connected into a long polymer they can't be simply made into the starting units again.. not at all like glass, metals, even paper products, can be taken back to more or less the starting material, but not plastics.

Engineer-Poet

Even unrecyclable mixed plastics can be cracked and turned into feedstock.  It's just a question of how hard you're willing to work to do it.  It probably takes a fairly high price of oil to make it attractive.

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