A team of chemical engineering researchers that includes Prof Wei Fan, and doctoral students Hong Je Cho and Vivek Vattipalli from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has developed a new method to make p-xylene from biomass. Conventionally, p-xylene is made from petroleum.
The key to the new process, which builds on previous work by the research team, is a new zeolite catalyst that directs the liquid chemical reaction to produce p- ylene and discourages the production of other by-products.
Previous efforts to make p-xylene in this manner have not achieved a yield higher than 75 percent. The research team synthesised the new zeolite to contain phosphorous which helps create a much more selective chemical reaction that almost exclusively yields p-xylene.
“The phosphorous containing zeolite catalysts exhibit high surface area and well dispersed phosphorous active sites. Different from conventional acid catalysts, the phosphorous containing zeolite catalysts is highly selective for p-xylene production. The selectivity is unique and has not been observed in the past. It can be easily used for many other important catalytic reactions,” explained Prof Fan.
The ability to create p-xylene from renewable biomass is a major step in creating a commercially attractive process.