The quest for sustainable resources to meet the demands of a rapidly rising global population while mitigating the risks of rising CO2 emissions and associated climate change, represents a grand challenge for humanity. Biomass offers the most readily implemented and low-cost solution for sustainable transportation fuels, and the only non-petroleum route to organic molecules for the manufacture of bulk, fine and speciality chemicals and polymers. To be considered truly sustainable, biomass must be derived from resources which do not compete with agricultural land use for food production, or compromise the environment (e.g. via deforestation). Potential feedstocks include waste lignocellulosic or oil-based materials derived from plant or aquatic sources, with the so-called biorefinery concept offering the co-production of biofuels, platform chemicals and energy; analogous to today’s petroleum refineries which deliver both high-volume/low-value (e.g. fuels and commodity chemicals) and low-volume/high-value (e.g. fine/speciality chemicals) products, thereby maximizing biomass valorization. This article addresses the challenges to catalytic biomass processing and highlights recent successes in the rational design of heterogeneous catalysts facilitated by advances in nanotechnology and the synthesis of templated porous materials, as well as the use of tailored catalyst surfaces to generate bifunctional solid acid/base materials or tune hydrophobicity.
One contribution of 15 to a discussion meeting issue ‘Catalysis making the world a better place’.
- Accepted July 30, 2015.
- © 2016 The Author(s)