On the way to biofuels from furan: Discriminating Diels-Alder and ring-opening mechanisms

S. Vaitheeswaran, Sara K. Green, Paul Dauenhauer, Scott M. Auerbach

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43 Scopus citations


We performed kinetics experiments and quantum calculations to investigate the reaction of furan to benzofuran catalyzed by the acidic zeolite HZSM-5, which is a key step in the conversion of biomass to biofuels through catalytic fast pyrolysis. The reaction was studied experimentally by placing the zeolite in contact with solution-phase furan and detecting the benzofuran product over the temperature range 270-300 C, yielding an apparent activation energy of 72 ± 3 kJ/mol. The reaction was modeled in gas and zeolite phases to determine the energetics of the following two competing pathways: a Diels-Alder mechanism often assumed in interpretations of experimental data and a ring-opening pathway predicted by the chemoinformatic software RING. Quantum calculations on the zeolite/guest system were performed using the ONIOM embedded cluster approach. We computed the energetics of reactants, products, and all intermediate steps. Locating relevant transition states fell beyond our computational resources because of system size and the ruggedness of the energy landscape. The Diels-Alder mechanism in the gas phase was found to pass through a high-energy intermediate roughly 380 kJ/mol above the reactant energy, which reduces to approximately 200 kJ/mol in HZSM-5. In contrast, the ring-opening mechanism passes through a gas-phase intermediate roughly 500 kJ/mol above the reactant energy, which falls to approximately 50 kJ/mol in HZSM-5. The energy of the ring-opening mechanism over HZSM-5 fits into the experimentally determined energy "budget" of 72 ± 3 kJ/mol. These experimental and computational results highlight the importance of the ring-opening mechanism for this key step in making biofuels. Our results strongly indicate that, in the cavities of HZSM-5, the condensation of two furan molecules to form benzofuran and water does not proceed by a Diels-Alder reaction between the reactants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2012-2019
Number of pages8
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 6 2013


  • Diels-Alder
  • HZSM-5
  • QM/MM
  • biofuels
  • catalytic pyrolysis
  • furan
  • zeolite catalysis


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