Researchers have developed a new, low-cost catalyst for plastic production that 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 nickel boride catalyst — which does not contain any precious metals — is readily available and affordable compared to many other catalysts. It can turn the biorefinery product HMF (5-hydrox-ymethyl-furfural) into FDCA (2,5-furan-dicarboxylic acid), which can be processed into polyesters. PEF — an alternative to PET — can thus be produced.
In tests, the catalyst turned 98.5 percent of the starting material HMF into FDCA in half an hour; no waste products were created. The catalyst was designed to be effective under the same conditions under which hydrogen production is also successful. The researchers were thus able to use the starting material to synthesize hydrogen as the potential energy source. Hydrogen is usually acquired from water using electrolysis, which also produces oxygen. The particularly energy-consuming reaction step, oxygen evolution, was eliminated when the researchers linked up hydrogen evolution and FDCA production.
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.