Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Publication Date

Spring 2015


Furfural is a byproduct of biomass hydrolysis and novel means of utilizing this platform chemical are at the forefront of biofuel research. This project investigated many of the various and viable means of catalytic upgrading of furfural to other value-added chemicals, before ultimately exploring the conversion of furfural to furfuryl alcohol over a copper catalyst on a magnesium oxide support. Reasonable reaction conditions, mechanisms, and catalysts for the conversion of furfural to various products and platform chemicals exist, but no circumstance represents an obviously preferred method. The objective of this research project was to design and conduct experiments that characterize this catalyst and qualify its applicability for the selective hydrogenation of furfural to furfuryl alcohol. The catalyst was explored in terms of its conversion of furfural, selectivity to furfuryl alcohol, BET-surface area, reaction rate, and performance over time.

It was found that the catalyst performs very well for the first five hours of reaction time with furfural conversion averaging 94% with selectivity of furfuryl alcohol around 75%. But, issues arose beyond the first few hours and the reaction rate dropped by as much as 75% over 26 hours as the catalyst deactivated. There was also a reaction of furfural on the surface of the catalyst led to plugging of the reactor after approximately 20 hours.

This project is very relevant to the field of chemical engineering and biofuel research. As biofuel production increases, so will the production of furfural, and finding ways to utilize this chemical in both an economical and environmentally friendly manner will greatly impact the growth and relevance of biofuels in the upcoming years.