Is furfural biodegradable? (7 applications of furfural)

This blog article will answer the question, “is furfural biodegradable?”.

It shall also cover other areas such as:

  • The properties of furfural.
  • The applications of furfural.
  • Furfural derivatives.
  • The eco-friendliness of furfural.

Is furfural biodegradable?

Yes, furfural is an organic compound that is produced by plants. Organic compounds are easily broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. The breakdown produces small biomass and other byproducts such as carbon dioxide, water, or methane.

The process of biodegradation is a complex one that involves a lot of factors, both biotic and abiotic.

There are also several agents of biodegradation such as water, wind, temperature, sunlight, and UV radiation, but the most efficient agents are bacteria and fungi.

So what exactly is biodegradation?

Biodegradation is the process by which microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi break down organic tissue into small biomass, producing carbon dioxide, water, or methane.

Heat is also produced during the process of biodegradation and is lost to the environment. 

The main agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi. They break organic materials, using them as a source of carbon to make food and energy.

Microbes can use either oxygen or other chemical compounds to break down organic matter. When they use oxygen, the process is called aerobic biodegradation.

When microorganisms use any other chemical to break down organic matter instead of oxygen, the process is called anaerobic biodegradation.

The products of aerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and water. The products of anaerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and methane.

The biodegradation process occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and finally assimilation. 

Biodeterioration is the first stage of biodegradation that involves abiotic factors such as light, UV radiation, and water to help in the weakening of the structure of organic substances.

Bio-fragmentation is the second stage that involves the physical breakdown of organic matter into small particles, this is due to the biodeterioration of the organic matter in the first stage.

The last stage involves the fungi and the bacteria breaking down the small particles into even smaller biomass, producing heat, water, carbon dioxide, and methane, with the products depending on the type of biodegradation; whether aerobic or anaerobic.

What are the properties of furfural?

Furfural compounds contain the following properties:

  • It is an organic compound that is found in plant products.
  • It is a colorless liquid, although commercial samples contain a brown color.
  • It is produced by the dehydration of sugars.
  • It has a low melting point of -37⁰ Celsius and a boiling point of 162⁰ Celsius.
  • It readily dissolves in most polar organic solvents but is slightly soluble in water and alkanes.
  • It exhibits the same reactions as other aldehydes and other aromatic compounds.
  • It polymerizes when it is heated in presence of acids and acts as a thermosetting polymer.

What are the applications of furfural?

Furfural is used in the following ways:

  • It is a very important organic, renewable, chemical feedstock.
  • Furfural can be converted into a variety of compounds such as solvents, polymers, fuels, and other compounds.
  • Furfural hydrogenation forms furfuryl alcohol which is used to produce furan resins, the resins are used to produce thermoset polymers, cement, adhesives, casting resins, and coatings.
  • Hydrogenation of furfuryl alcohol forms tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol which is used as a solvent in agricultural formulations and also as an adjuvant to help herbicides penetrate the leaf tissues.
  • Decarbonylation of furfural in the presence of palladium catalyst forms industrial furan.
  • Oxidation of furfural results in the formation of furoic acid.
  • Furfuran is also used as a chemical feedstock to form methyltetrahydrofuran.
  • Furfural is used as a chemical solvent.

What are the chemical derivatives of furfural and their applications?

Furfural is a chemical feedstock that is used as an intermediate in the synthesis of other chemical compounds.

They include the following:

  • Furfuryl alcohol.
  • Tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol.
  • Furan.
  • Methyltetrahydrofuran.
  • Furoic acid.

Furfuryl alcohol.

This is an organic compound that contains a hydroxymethyl group that has substituted a furan group.

It is manufactured in industries by hydrogenation of furfural, which is obtained from waste biomass such as corn cobs and sugarcane bagasse.

It is a colorless liquid but turns amber with age. It contains a faint odor of burning and also contains a bitter taste.

Furfuryl alcohol is miscible with water, although it loses its stability in the process. It is also soluble in organic solvents such as tetrachloroethylene, toluene, turpentine, acetone, methyl acetate, ethyl acetate, and ethanol.

It has a melting point of -29⁰ Celsius and a boiling point of 170⁰ Celsius.

Applications of furfuryl alcohol.

Furfuryl alcohol is used in the following ways:

  • It is used in the synthesis of furan resins. The resins are in turn used to make synthetic thermoset polymer matrix composites, cement, adhesives, coatings, and casting.
  • It is used in the treatment of wood because it can impregnate wood cells. It is then bonded with the wood by heating or radiation.

The treated wood is resistant to moisture, decay, and insects and it has an impressive hardness.

  • It is used as a fuel component. When furfuryl alcohol comes into contact with white fuming nitric acid or red fuming nitric acid oxidizer, it ignites hyperbolically, propelling the rocket.

Tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol.

This is an organic compound that contains a tetrahydrofuran ring substituted in the 2-position with a hydroxymethyl group.

Tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol is a colorless liquid that is used as a specialty silver and synthetic intermediate to some chemical compounds.

It is derived from the hydrogenation of furfural. Tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol is a precursor to 1,5-pentanediol.

Tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol is also used in the formulation of epoxy resin. I’m either the epoxy component or amine hardener.

1,5-pentanediol is an organic compound that is colorless and highly viscous. It is used as a plasticizer; a substance used in making plastics more durable.

It is also used in making polyesters that are used as emulsifying agents and intermediates for resin synthesis.

Methyltetrahydrofuran.

This is an organic compound that is highly flammable. It is mostly used as a substitute for tetrahydrofuran in specialized applications due to its better performance, that is, it is not miscible with water.

It is a derivative of furfural through catalyzed hydrogenation reactions and is widely utilized as a biofuel.

It is produced in plant tissues with a high concentration of polysaccharides such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.

Applications of methyltetrahydrofuran.

Methyltetrahydrofuran is used in the following ways:

  • It is used as a substitute solvent for tetrahydrofuran in applications that need higher boiling points.
  • It is used in the formulation of electrolytes for secondary lithium electrodes.
  • It is used as a solvent for low-temperature reactions.
  • It forms a glass that doesn’t crystallize and is therefore used as a solvent for spectroscopic studies at low temperatures of up to -196⁰ Celsius.
  • It is used as a solvent for the Grignard reagents used in organometallic and biphasic chemical reactions.
  • It is used as an additive for gasoline because of its high stability and less volatility as compared to furfural and other furfural derivatives.

Furoic acid.

This is an organic compound with a furan ring and a carboxylic acid side-group. 

Esters and salts produced from furoic acid are called furoates. Furoic acid is used as a preservative and a flavoring agent in food industries because of its sweet, earthy flavor.

It is derived from the oxidation of furfural or furfuryl alcohol. 

Applications of furoic acid

Furoic acid is used in the following ways:

  • It is used to make furoate esters, some of which are used as pesticides and drugs.
  • It is used as a preservative and flavoring agent in foods. 

Is furfural eco-friendly?

Yes, furfural is derived from plant products, and therefore it is biodegradable.

Furfural is a renewable compound that is readily acquired from the lignocellulosic biomass of plants.

Furfural is a promising source of biofuel and biochemicals that is aimed at reducing the use of toxic chemicals that are also environmental pollutants.

However, according to a study, furfural production pollutes the environment through heavy metals, phosphates, and phosphorus compounds produced during the transportation of corncob.

Conclusion.

This blog article has answered the question of the biodegradability of furfural.

It has also addressed other areas such as:

  • The biodegradation process.
  • The applications of furfural.
  • The properties of furfural.
  • The derivatives of furfural and their applications.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is furfural biodegradable?

What is furfural made of?

Furfural is made up of lignocellulosic biomass that is found in a corn cob and sugarcane bagasse.

How is furfural produced?

Furfural is industrially derived from hydrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass such as corn cob and sugarcane bagasse or by dehydration of pentose sugar using sulfuric acid as the catalyst.

What is furfural used for?

Furfural is used as a precursor for the synthesis of compounds such as furfuryl alcohol, tetrahydrofurfuryl, and tetrahydrofuran.

It is also used in the synthesis of adhesive, antacids, inks, paints, fungicides, insecticides, drugs, fertilizers, and food flavoring agents.

Citations.

Brownlee, Harold J.; Miner, Carl S. (1948). “Industrial Development of Furfural”. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry. 40 (2): 201–204.

doi:10.1021/ie50458a005. 

Cai, Charles M.; Zhang, Taiying; Kumar, Rajeev; Wyman, Charles E. (2014). “Integrated furfural production as a renewable fuel and chemical platform from lignocellulosic biomass”. Journal of Chemical Technology & Biotechnology. 89: 2–10. 

doi:10.1002/jctb.4168.

MUNJAL, N. L. (May 1970). “Ignition catalysts for furfuryl alcohol – Red fuming nitric acid bipropellant”. AIAA Journal. 8 (5): 980–981. 

doi:10.2514/3.5816.

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