Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Chemical and Biochemical Engineering


Dr. Chunbao (Charles) Xu

2nd Supervisor

Dr. Zhongchao (Chao) Tan

Joint Supervisor


5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) as a versatile and polyfunctional compound derived from dehydration of biomass has attracted increasing attentions in research over the past decades. HMF is an important intermediate and platform chemical, which can be converted into different useful chemicals as well as the promising biofuels. It can be obtained from acid-catalyzed dehydration of different C6-based carbohydrates such as glucose, fructose, sucrose and cellulose.

In this thesis, a cost-effective process for catalytic conversion of simple sugars (particularly glucose and fructose) and industrial grade sugar syrups to HMF was studied in a novel biphasic continuous-flow tubular reactor using inexpensive heterogeneous solid catalysts and biphasic media (aqueous/organic). Commercial and synthesized heterogeneous catalysts were used for the catalytic experiments and their activities in terms of conversion, selectivity and yield were compared. It is assumed that catalytic conversion of glucose to HMF involves two-step reaction pathway of glucose isomerization to fructose and subsequent fructose dehydration to HMF. Thus, the experimental approach for this research was to first isomerize glucose to fructose using heterogeneous solid base catalysts and then dehydrate fructose to HMF using heterogeneous solid acid catalysts. Thereafter, continuous single-step conversion of glucose and industrial grade sugar syrups derived from corn and wood to HMF was investigated. In each section, fresh catalysts were characterized comprehensively and the stability of some selected catalysts and feasibility of catalyst recycling were examined. The effects of different experimental conditions including reaction temperature, feeding flow rate, initial feedstock concentration, catalyst loading, presence of extracting organic solvent and phase transfer catalyst were also studied. At the best operating conditions, the maximum fructose yield of 25% was achieved from isomerization of glucose over magnesium oxide catalyst and maximum HMF yields of 60%, 45% and 53% were obtained from dehydration of fructose (over Amberlyst 36 catalyst), glucose (over niobium phosphate catalyst) and HFCS-90 (over niobium phosphate catalyst), respectively. The deactivation mechanism of some selected catalysts was also investigated by analysing the used catalysts and the insoluble humins produced during the reaction as the main by-product responsible for the catalyst deactivation. The kinetics of glucose dehydration reaction over niobium phosphate catalyst was also studied.