Biobased solvent to be ready for the market

Biobased solvent to be ready for the market

A research project has developed dimethylfuran as a solvent for paints and coatings. Production is now being scaled up.

Laboraufbau mit Reaktionsgefäßen und Schläuchen
With this apparatus, researchers at the Ruhr University Bochum are testing the biobased production of the solvent dimethylfuran on a small scale.

The disposal of solvents in the chemical industry is often problematic because many of the substances are harmful to the environment. Biobased solvents would be a good alternative, but only a small part of the 20 million tons produced annually can be called such. Researchers at the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) have found a solvent in dimethylfuran (DMF) that they can produce biobased. In a new research project, it is now to be further developed for industrial use.

Scale up by a factor of 40

The starting point for the synthesis of dimethylfuran is the compound 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), which can be produced from biomass. So far, however, the synthesis has only been carried out on a small scale and is still to be established on a 40-fold larger scale. The researchers also want to optimize several process parameters to make the process more attractive for industrial application. In addition to the RUB, the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB) in Straubing and the industrial partner AURO Pflanzenchemie AG are also part of the team. The German Research Foundation is funding the project with 214,200 euros from October 2022 to September 2025.

Making process parameters more environmentally friendly

To reduce energy costs, the researchers want to lower the reaction temperature from 160 to 130 degrees. This will probably require adapting the current catalyst, nanoparticles of palladium. In addition, the solvent production itself also requires a solvent, which of course should be environmentally friendly as well. The team also has a clear idea about this: "We want to use water as the solvent because the reaction should be as harmless as possible for humans and the environment," explains technical chemist Baoxiang Peng from the RUB.

Recipes for paints and varnishes

The optimized process then has to prove itself outside the laboratory scale with the help of IGB process engineers: "We scale up the conversion of HMF to DMF to a liter scale and then purify the product," explains Ferdinand Vogelsang from IGB. "After that, we test the final product as a solvent and extraction agent for natural products before it goes to our industrial partner." If everything goes according to plan, the project participants intend to provide industry with elaborate recipes for using dimethylfuran in the production of environmentally friendly paints and coatings.