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© Thünen-Institut
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Institute of

AT Agricultural Technology


Catalysis in Biorefineries

Continuous-flow stirred-tank reactor for glucose oxidation with gold catalystseoxidation mit Goldkatalysatoren
© Thünen-Institut
Continuous-flow stirred-tank reactor for glucose oxidation with gold catalysts

Investigation and validation of methods for the chemical and catalytical conversion of renewable resources for the production of higher value products and evaluation of new applications

Catalytic conversion processes are the backbone of today’s chemical industry. They will be as well of fundamental importance in a future bio-based industry. Comprehensive knowledge of value-added chains and catalysts is needed to analyze, develop and evaluate biorefinery processes.

Background and Objective

The transition from a fossil-based to a more sustainable bio-based economy is one major goal not only of the German government. In a bio-based economy the manifold products of the chemical industry, which are currently based on fossil resources, need to be produced from renewable resources. Analogously to petrochemical refineries, in which crude oil is first fractionated and afterwards processed in numerous, highly integrated value chains to various petrochemicals, renewables shall be processed in so-called biorefineries. More specifically, biomass first is fractionated in primary refinement processes into processible streams, e.g. starch, sugar, cellulose, fats & oils. Those shall afterwards be converted by subsequent processing steps to various intermediates or end-products such as chemicals, solvents, monomers, polymers, etc.

The conversion processes in biorefineries comprehend thermochemical, biotechnical and especially chemical and catalytic processes. Today’s chemical industry is dominated by catalytic processes, i.e. roughly 80-90 % of the products are produced via catalytic steps. Catalytic processes will as well be of major importance in future biorefinery processes. Therefore, comprehensive knowledge of value-added chains, catalytic processes and catalysts is needed to analyze, develop and evaluate future value-added chains within potential biorefinery concepts.

Our research is focused on the one hand on the development of catalysts and processes for the conversion of renewables to bio-based chemicals and products. On the other hand, we identify the most efficient and sustainable conversion routes both in combination and in comparison to alternative thermochemical or biotechnical routes.


In various projects different research questions with regard to the catalytic conversion of renewables are addressed, e.g.:

  • Selective oxidation of carbohydrates to sugar acids or intermediates in vitamin C synthesis
  • Selective oxidation of fatty alcohol ethoxylates to ether carboxylic acids for use in detergents
  • Production of 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) from carbohydrates
  • Catalytic processes for the production of itaconic acid derivatives for use in polyester applications
  • Bioethanol as future platform chemical
  • Production of maleic acid from xylose

Preliminary Results

For several of these conversion processes important progress beyond state-of-the-art was achieved. A number of patents were filed with regard to new/optimized catalysts and processes. Hence, our catalysis research is in a leading position in the international community. Thereby, we acquire the necessary knowledge to be able to comprehensively evaluate similar processes in a qualified way.


Permanent task 5.2007 - 12.2025

Publications on the project

  1. 0

    Kuhz H, Kuenz A, Prüße U, Willke T, Vorlop K-D (2017) Products components: Alcohols. Adv Biochem Engineering Biotech 166:339-372, DOI:10.1007/10_2016_74

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