Glucose and fructose to platform chemicals: understanding the thermodynamic landscapes of acid-catalysed reactions using high-level ab initio methods

Phys Chem Chem Phys. 2012 Dec 28;14(48):16603-11. doi: 10.1039/c2cp41842h. Epub 2012 Aug 29.


Molecular level understanding of acid-catalysed conversion of sugar molecules to platform chemicals such as hydroxy-methyl furfural (HMF), furfuryl alcohol (FAL), and levulinic acid (LA) is essential for efficient biomass conversion. In this paper, the high-level G4MP2 method along with the SMD solvation model is employed to understand detailed reaction energetics of the acid-catalysed decomposition of glucose and fructose to HMF. Based on protonation free energies of various hydroxyl groups of the sugar molecule, the relative reactivity of gluco-pyranose, fructo-pyranose and fructo-furanose are predicted. Calculations suggest that, in addition to the protonated intermediates, a solvent assisted dehydration of one of the fructo-furanosyl intermediates is a competing mechanism, indicating the possibility of multiple reaction pathways for fructose to HMF conversion in aqueous acidic medium. Two reaction pathways were explored to understand the thermodynamics of glucose to HMF; the first one is initiated by the protonation of a C2-OH group and the second one through an enolate intermediate involving acyclic intermediates. Additionally, a pathway is proposed for the formation of furfuryl alcohol from glucose initiated by the protonation of a C2-OH position, which includes a C-C bond cleavage, and the formation of formic acid. The detailed free energy landscapes predicted in this study can be used as benchmarks for further exploring the sugar decomposition reactions, prediction of possible intermediates, and finally designing improved catalysts for biomass conversion chemistry in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acids / chemistry
  • Catalysis
  • Fructose / chemistry*
  • Furaldehyde / analogs & derivatives*
  • Furaldehyde / chemistry
  • Furans / chemistry*
  • Glucose / chemistry*
  • Protons
  • Thermodynamics


  • Acids
  • Furans
  • Protons
  • Fructose
  • 5-hydroxymethylfurfural
  • furfuryl alcohol
  • Furaldehyde
  • Glucose