New transition metal catalysts for high quality biofuels and biobased feedstocks: coupling simple furans and alcohols for compounds of low toxicity
The present work involves the discovery and application of new transition metal catalysts towards coupling reactions between abundant alcohols such as ethanol, butanol, and isobutanol and furans such as methylfuran. The alkylated furan products are likely to be useful fuels for integration into the existing transportation infrustructure, and to have better transportability and performance characteristics than the alcohol and furan starting materials. As the substrates are biomass derived, the resultant fuels are nearly ‘carbon-neutral’. While the fuel applications of these compounds will be the main focus (application case study), there is significant potential for reactions on these same substrates to generate specific feedstocks of value to industry. For example furan-based monomers for the polymer industry could be generated by similar reactions to those used to generate fuels. As polymeric products represent a main output of the chemical industry, conversion to renewable feedstocks is an important challenge in the effort to make these industries more sustainable. Iridium and ruthenium catalysts have been described for alcohol-based coupling reactions with aromatic species. The present work involves the use of mechanistic study and high throughput investigation to expand the understanding and scope of these reactions. Furthermore, the knowledge gained by these initial studies will be used in concert with catalyst design to achieve improved catalysis and to set the stage for the use of more abundant transition metals (e.g. iron, cobalt) for these transformations. Investigations into mechanistic toxicology are being designed into the research effort in catalysis to afford platform chemicals of inherently safer architectures.