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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Synthesis of Biomass-Derived Ethers for Use as Fuels and Lubricants.

  • Author(s): Rorrer, Julie E
  • Bell, Alexis T
  • Toste, F Dean
  • et al.

Ethers synthesized from biomass-derived compounds have exceptional properties as fuels, lubricants, and specialty chemicals and can serve as replacements for petroleum-derived products. Recent efforts have identified heterogeneous catalysts for the selective synthesis of ethers from alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, furans, esters, olefins, carboxylic acids, and other molecules derived from biomass. This Review highlights the scope of etherification reactions and provides insights into the choice of catalysts and reaction conditions best suited for producing targeted ethers from the available starting materials. First, the properties of ethers for specific applications and the methods by which synthons for ether synthesis can be obtained from biomass are discussed. Then the progress that has been made on the synthesis of ethers via the following methods is summarized: direct etherification of alcohols; reductive etherification of alcohols with aldehydes or ketones; etherification of furanic compounds, esters, and carboxylic acids; and the addition of alcohols to olefins. Next, the mechanisms of these reactions and catalyst properties required to promote them are discussed, with the goal of understanding how reaction conditions can be tuned to optimize catalyst activity and selectivity towards desired ethers. The Review closes by examining the tradeoffs between catalyst selectivity, activity, stability, and reaction conditions required to achieve the most economically and environmentally favorable routes to biomass-derived ethers.

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