ACS Catal. 2023 Jul 19;13(15):10137-10152. doi: 10.1021/acscatal.3c00755. eCollection 2023 Aug 4.
Isosorbide, a bicyclic C6 diol, has considerable value as a precursor for the production of bio-derived polymers. Current production of isosorbide from sorbitol utilizes homogeneous acid, commonly H2SO4, creating harmful waste and complicating separation. Thus, a heterogeneous acid catalyst capable of producing isosorbide from sorbitol in high yield under mild conditions would be desirable. Reported here is a quantitative investigation of the liquid-phase dehydration of neat sorbitol over sulfated zirconia (SZ) solid acid catalysts produced via sol-gel synthesis. The catalyst preparation allows for precise surface area control (morphology) and tunable catalytic activity. The S/Zr ratio (0.1-2.0) and calcination temperature (425-625 °C) were varied to evaluate their effects on morphology, acidity, and reaction kinetics and, as a result, to optimize the catalytic system for this transformation. With the optimal SZ catalyst, complete conversion of sorbitol occurred in <2 h under mild conditions to give isosorbide in 76% yield. Overall, the quantitative kinetics and structure-reactivity studies provided valuable insights into the parameters that govern product yields and SZ catalyst activity, central among these being the relative proportion of acid site types and Brønsted surface density.