Furfural production from pentoses
The platform 2 is linked to the valorization of pentose (C5) issued from the fermentation process for the production of bioethanol. One possible pathway for C5 valorization is the conversion of C5 sugars into furfural, a platform molecule of the chemical industry that can be used for the production of gasoline additives, plastics, pharmaceuticals, etc. The current industrial scale processes for the production of furfural from C5 sugars have low furfural yields around 50-60%. The main reason is the instability of furfural in the acidic medium in which it is produced. In addition, these processes have significant disadvantages related to equipment corrosion, catalyst loss and the production of large amounts of acidic and toxic waste.
The method used at the CRIEC-B is based on the dehydration of C5 sugars using a homogeneous acid catalyst and on the use of an organic solvent which stabilizes the furfural produced by extracting it from the reaction medium as soon as it is produced. The results obtained at the laboratory scale are very promising showing a total conversion of the C5 sugars and furfural yields of about 93%, which are much higher than those obtained in current industrial processes. This process was optimized at the CRIEC-B to maximize the furfural produced/pentose converted ratio using low acid concentrations. In addition, the organic solvent can be recycled in the process minimizing the overall costs of the process as well as the production of toxic waste.
Based on the results obtained at the laboratory scale, the CRIEC-B team has designed a pilot with a furfural production capacity of 15kL/year, which will be operational by winter 2018! This pilot will allow the CRIEC-B team to improve the process for an eventual industrial application.