Biorefining for Bio-based Chemicals (J.-P. Lange - 2021)

Biomass could provide the chemical industry with sustainable routes to the materials that are necessary to a modern and comfortable life. This promise requires the development of new conversion and separation technologies to be applied in future biorefineries.

In one workstream, we are investigating pre-treatment technologies to extract carbohydrates from lignocellulosic biomass in a way that makes them suitable for subsequent upgrading by means of hydrogenation or hydrogenolysis. 

With Production Technologies (PT), we explore the possibility of developing thermoplastic bio-materials from the heavy and tarry product of lignocellulose liquefaction. We indeed found that, once isolated, the heavy fraction of biocrude is solid at room temperature but soften at elevated temperature. This thermoplast can then be reinforced with natural fibers to deliver a composite that shows a mechanical strength like polystyrene. Unlike conventional composite, however, this one can be easily recycled by reprocessing it into biocrude and, subsequently, blending its heavy fraction with fresh natural fibers.

In collaboration with Catalytic Processes and Materials (CPM), we are exploring the opportunity to upgrade bio-intermediates to chemical building blocks. For instance, we have explored the possibility to use acetic acid, a natural fermentation product of sugars, as acylation agent to convert benzene to phenyl-ethanol, which can then be dehydrated to styrene. We also explored the possibility to upgrade propylene glycol, a major co-product of sugar hydrogenolysis, to acrylic acid. The route proceeds via dehydration to allyl alcohol followed by oxidation to acrylic acid. We also confirmed the possibility to convert furfural to furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) by base-catalysed addition of CO2.

Together with Molecular nanoFabrication (MnF), we are exploring novel chemistries to convert sugars to furanic intermediates that can subsequently be upgraded to chemical building blocks. For instance, we confirmed a pronounced acceleration in furfural production from xylose under microwave heating and could assigned it to local overheating of the medium that result from inhomogeneous microwave irradiation. We then applied the learning to enhance reactive extraction in biphasic media: we applied microwave to selectively heat the aqueous reaction phase while keeping the organic extraction phase relatively cool and reached, thereby, very furfural yields. We then explored the potential of extracting sugars into organic media using boronate esters for purification and upgrading.

However, a catalysis transformation does not suffice to provide a promising biorefinery concept; separation technologies and conceptual process is also necessary.  To this end, we are subjecting various projects to a conceptual process design and economic assessment. We are also developing concepts and guidelines to help the researchers identifying critical issues in the early stage of development.


  1. L. Ricciardi, W. Verboom, J.-P. Lange, J. Huskens: Reactive Extraction Enhanced by Synergic Microwave Heating ‐ Furfural Yield  Boost in Biphasic Systems, ChemSusChem 2020, (DOI: 10.1002/cssc.202000966)
  2. M. Buitelaar, E. van Daatselaar, D. van Teijlingen, H.I. Stokvis, J.D. Wendt, R. de Sousa Ribeiro, A. Brooks, E. Kamphuis, S. Lopez Montoya, J. van Putten, A.G. J. van der Ham, H. van Den Berg, J.-P. Lange: Process designs for converting propylene glycol to acrylic acid via lactic acid and allyl alcohol, Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2020, 59, 3, 1183-1192
  3. M.P. Ruiz, J. Mijnders, R. Tweehuysen, L. Warnet, M. van Drongelen, S. Kersten, J.-P. Lange: Fully‐recyclable bio‐based thermoplastic materials from liquefied wood, ChemSusChem, 2019, (DOI: 10.1002/cssc.201901959)
  4. L. Ricciardi, W. Verboom, J.-P. Lange, J. Huskens; Local overheating Explains the Rate Enhancement of Xylose Dehydration under Microwave Heating, ACS Sust. Chem. & Eng. 2019, 7, 14273-14279 (DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.9b03580)
  5. V.C. Pramod, R. Fauziah, K. Seshan, J.-P. Lange: Bio-based acrylic acid from sugar via propylene glycol and allyl alcohol, Catal. Sci. Technol. 2018, 8, 289 – 296
  6. J.-P. Lange: Don't forget product recovery in catalysis research - Check the Distillation Resistance, ChemSusChem 2017, 10, 245 – 252
  7. J.-P. Lange: Catalysis for biorefineries – performance criteria for industrial operation, Catalysis Science & Technology, 2016, 6, 4759 - 4767
  8. A.A. Kiss, J.-P. Lange, B. Schuur, D.W.F. Brilman, A.G.J. van der Ham, S.R.A. Kersten: Separation technology–Making a difference in biorefineries, Biomass and Bioenergy, 2016, 95, 296 - 309