WARF: P150132US01

Solar Cells Turn HMF to Valuable Platform Molecules


Kyoung-Shin Choi, Hyun Gil Cha

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) is seeking commercial partners interested in developing a greener, cheaper and more efficient method to convert biomass-derived HMF to furan compounds.
OVERVIEWPhotoelectrochemical cells (PECs) use solar energy to produce fuels, much as nature does through photosynthesis. In a typical PEC, fuels are formed by reduction reactions at the cathode. For example, water can be reduced to hydrogen gas (H2) or CO2 can be reduced to methanol and methane. To complete the circuit, a reaction has to take place at the anode, typically water oxidation.

However, water oxidation is slow and its product, O2, is not very valuable. Identifying a more useful anode reaction would improve the overall efficiency and utility of PECs. Several efforts have focused on a chemical called HMF (5-hydroxymethylfurfural) commonly derived from biomass sugar. HMF is of great interest because it can be converted to several industrially important molecules.
THE INVENTIONUW–Madison researchers have developed a new method using solar cells to electrochemically oxidize HMF to highly prized furan compounds, specifically FDCA (2,5-furandicarboxylic acid) and DFF (2,5-diformylfuran). These important compounds are used to produce polymer materials, pharmaceuticals, antifungal agents, organic conductors and much more.

The reaction takes place at ambient temperature and pressure using a TEMPO mediator. Unlike previous methods, the process does not require a precious metal catalyst.
  • Production of FDCA and DFF – important building block molecules used to make a variety of materials and chemicals
  • Practical and environmentally friendly
  • High yield
  • No expensive catalyst electrodes
  • Works at ambient temperature and pressure
  • Lower pH solutions, stable conditions
  • Boosts the efficiency and utility of PECs
STAGE OF DEVELOPMENTThe researchers have produced FDCA in high yield (99 percent) and reduced the time required for complete conversion to one hour.
For More Information About the Inventors
Contact Information
For current licensing status, please contact Mark Staudt at or 608-960-9845.
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