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CatFur: CATalytic conversion of lignocellulose by an organosolv process into FURan derivatives

The development of biorefineries to produce fuels and commodity chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass is regarded as a potential alternative to current reliance on nonrenewable resources. In addition, furan derivatives are more and more considered to be key molecules for biofuels and biopolymers. The CatFur project focuses therefore on the use of lignocellulose as the starting point for the production of furan based fuels and monomers for biopolymers in a full bio-based refinery process resulting in economically competing products.

CatFur is a joint project between Avantium Technologies, the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) and the Copernicus Institute (University of Utrecht). CatFur is partly financed by SenterNovem in the EOS-LT framework. The CatFUR project started September 2009 and will run until December 2012.

Organosolv technology of ECN allows for the fractionation of lignocellulosic biomass into a range of valuable chemical building blocks (cellulose, hemicellulose derivatives, and lignin). These products have a combined commercial value that greatly exceeds the value of a variety of (mainly fermentation) products made from just the carbohydrate fractions of woody biomass, softwoods, hardwoods, agricultural residues, deliberately grown energy crops, etc.

Avantium explores novel furan chemistry, focused on efficient and low cost catalytic conversion of C6 sugars (i.e. glucose, mannose, galactose and fructose) and C5 sugars (i.e. xylose and arabinose) into derivatives of the promising chemical key intermediates hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF) and furfural. Major unique breakthroughs have been obtained by converting sugars into liquid HMF-derivatives, rather than the unstable HMF intermediate itself.

The Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development and Innovation is known for its process chain analyses on novel technologies using alternative feedstock and innovative conversions. These evaluations are based on conceptual process design, which offers insight into the key process parameters, the material flows and the energy requirements per unit process. The combination with the LCA methodology allows conducting ex-ante environmental assessments.

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