Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, Vol.59, No.51, 22049-22056, 2020
Role of Silica Support in Phosphoric Acid Catalyzed Production of p-Xylene from 2,5-Dimethylfuran and Ethylene
p-Xylene is a commodity chemical of industrial importance for terephthalic acid production, for which renewable sourcing from naturally abundant lignocellulosic biomass is highly desired. Previous work demonstrated that phosphoric acid stabilized on siliceous zeolite supports (e.g., P-BEA, P-SPP) exhibits high selectivity toward p-xylene (>97%) from 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF) and ethylene. However, the effect of the support and the contribution of heterogeneous versus homogeneous phosphoric acid on the observed catalytic behavior in the solvated reaction system have not been addressed. Here, we determine the phosphoric acid catalytic activity for DMF conversion and its selectivity to p-xylene when it is supported on a silica support as well as in the absence of a support. Specifically, phosphoric acid catalysis was studied in three different scenarios: (1) phosphoric acid was added in the liquid reaction mixture in the absence of any solid support, (2) phosphoric acid was added in the liquid reaction mixture along with inert silica support including siliceous zeolite (i.e., allowing for phosphoric acid-support assembly to proceed in the reaction mixture), and (3) phosphoric acid was first impregnated on the siliceous zeolite support and then the pre-assembled supported phosphoric acid catalyst was added in the liquid reaction mixture. We found that the reaction rate and selectivity to p-xylene are different in the above scenarios reflecting the effect of the solid support on the catalytic performance of phosphoric acid. In scenario 1, a low concentration of phosphoric acid (1.7 mM) in the absence of any solid support exhibited high selectivity to p-xylene (80% selectivity to p-xylene at 60% conversion of DMF), which decreased with increasing acid concentration. The selectivity to p-xylene and activity of phosphoric acid significantly increased by adding a silica support into the reaction system (scenario 2). This improvement was attributed to phosphoric acid partial association with the surface of the silica support under the reaction conditions (in situ catalyst assembly). Phosphoric acid pre-deposited on siliceous zeolite supports (e.g., PBEA, P-SPP) synthesized via impregnation prior to the reaction (scenario 3) catalyzed the reaction heterogeneously without noticeable leaching and exhibited the highest activity and selectivity to p-xylene, suggesting an important role of the silica support and the need to ensure that phosphoric acid acts as a heterogeneous catalyst in order to accomplish selective conversion of DMF to p-xylene.