Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) – A valuable, bio-derived platform chemical

Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is a promising bio-derived platform chemical for value-added chemicals. For a sustainable development, the use of renewable resources must be enhanced and more sustainable ways for chemical production must come into focus. Lately, the realization of industrial scale HMF production has gained much more attention.

Carbohydrate conversion to HMF

HMF combines the structure of furfural and furfuryl alcohol; it has a hydroxyl and aldehyde group as well as a furan ring. The acid catalyzed dehydration of monosaccharides, e.g. fructose or glucose, results in the formation of HMF. Generally, the HMF formation is described as the removal of three water molecules from the sugar molecule.

Figure: Dehydratisation to HMF and rehydration of HMF to side-products levulinic acid and formic acid

Two different mechanisms, one involving a cyclic and one an acyclic route were proposed for the HMF formation by the scientific community. A definite proof for either of the two mechanistic routes is yet to be found. Several kinetic studies investigates the HMF formation, their contribution is not limited to shedding light on the mechanistic behind the HMF formation, but they also provide valuable insight for the development of optimum reactor configurations and process conditions.

Recent process developments

Recently, the realization of industrial scale HMF production processes has gained much more attention and an increasing number of HMF production methods have been patented in the last couple of years. Several adjustments to existing production methods have been made to improve the chemical and economic efficiency of the HMF production processes. The production methods can roughly be divided in the main research fields: operational aspects (operating mode, reactor design), solvent system (single-phase systems, biphasic systems), catalytic systems (salts, acid ion-exchange resins) as well as feedstock selection and conversion (isomerase enzyme, partial conversion endpoint, producing HMF from by-products).

A first-small scale, commercial production plant using hydrothermal carbonization is operating since 2004. The production of HMF still faces some challenges regarding yield and sustainable and economic process designs.

Challenges in HMF production

The formation of side products, especially of solid condensation products (often referred to as humins) still pose immense problems in the up-scaled HMF production. In addition the separation of HMF from the reaction media and its subsequent purification causes difficulties due to the thermal lability of HMF.

Potential of HMF as value-added platform chemical

HMF is often referred to as promising bio-derived platform chemical, because it has the potential to replace a large range of conventionally produced building blocks. Due to the anticipated enormous market potential, HMF is often called a “sleeping giant”. The HMF derivative, 2, 5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) was listed by the US Departments of Energy as one of the twelve top value-added chemicals in 2004. In addition, HMF derivatives such as 2, 5- (bishydroxymethyl)furan or 2,5-diformylfuran are promising crosslinkers in the resin production.

Check out the publication from Wood K plus & BOKU for more details on the current situation of the challenging scale-up development of hydroxymethylfurfural production.

Find the current full open access publication here. For more information on the potential of HMF and its derivatives in the adhesive production stay tuned for the follow-up blog post.



DI Catherine Thoma, BSc.

Junior Researcher, Area Wood Materials Technologies

Kompetenzzentrum Holz GmbH, Wood K plus


Johannes Konnerth, Wilfried Sailer-Kronlachner, Pia Solt, Thomas Rosenau and Henrikus W.G. van Herwijnen


Related Blog Articles: 

International Day of Women & Girls in Science, Wood K plus portrays two dedicated researchers – Pia & Catherine

Laboratory-scale Carbohydrate Conversion Reactions, Production of carbohydrate-based binders for wood products

International Day of Women & Girls in Science – 11th February 2020

In the context of this year’s International Day of Women & Girls in Science, SUSBIND partner Wood K plus portrays two dedicated researchers – Pia & Catherine.

© Wood K plus, DI Dr. Pia Solt-Rindler (left) and DI Catherine Thoma (right)


Pia Solt-Rindler is a senior researcher at the area Wood Material Technologies of SUSBIND partner Wood K plus, a leading research institute in the area wood and wood-related renewable resources. She is specialized in alternative adhesive systems used for wood-based materials. Her focus is on the development of formaldehyde-free adhesives but also on bio-based adhesive systems.

Catherine Thoma is a junior researcher, who has a background in technical chemistry and specializes in material science. Her research interests involve carbohydrate conversion and sustainable production of carbohydrate-based resins for wood-based panels.

What does an ordinary day as researcher look like?

Pia Solt-Rindler: The question of an ordinary day is quite difficult to answer. Depending on the project and its status, my working day can variate from developing a new binder in the laboratory, to testing and analyzing its properties to evaluating data behind the computer. Nevertheless, there are also calmer days when the time can be used to write reports or publications. However, exactly this versatility makes my job so diverse, that is why I like it so much.

Catherine Thoma: As a junior researcher in the SUSBIND project, I focus my research on the development of a bio-based binder and the subsequent material testing methods. This included an extensive literature research on the current state of the art at the beginning of the SUSBIND project. Right now, I mainly work in the lab, where I enjoy working with different testing and production methods.

What do you like best about you work?

Pia Solt-Rindler: Wood K plus is a research institution that is located at the interface between university research and industry. I enjoy it a lot to work as this kind of connection, to be able to do research on the one hand, but always with the economic aspect in the background. Everything we do has a deeper purpose, either economic or ecological.

Catherine Thoma: I like the meaningfulness and variation of the research work the most. In the development of a new bio-based binder a lot of different testing methods have to be applied and the results contribute to our overall understanding of this topic.

What do you like most about being part of the SUSBIND project?

SUSBIND as a collaborative European research and innovation project brings together partners from six different EU countries. Getting the chance of working in such an international project and contributing to a more sustainable world by developing a bio-based binder for wood-panel boards is what we like most.

How many women work in researcher positions nowadays and is there a need for improvement in the equal distribution of genders in this context?

At Wood K plus, over half of the employees are women. We do not have any special subsidies for our female employees, but instead we focus on absolute gender equality.


Authors: DI Dr. Pia Solt-Rindler, DI Catherine Thoma, BSc.

Senior Researcher/Junior Researcher, Area Wood Materials Technologies

Kompetenzzentrum Holz GmbH, Wood K plus


Related Blog Articles:

Recently published Open Access Manuscript, Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) – A valuable, bio-derived platform chemical

Laboratory-scale Carbohydrate Conversion ReactionsProduction of carbohydrate-based binders for wood products

Stakeholderdialog Biobased Industry: “Wood – Bioeconomy’s backbone”

This years’ Stakeholderdialog, organized by the Austrian BMVIT in cooperation with the Fachverband der Chemischen Industrie Österreichs (FCIO) at the Wirtschaftskammer Wien (WKO), focussed on new applications, innovative products and technologies in the context of wood-utilisation. Highlighting the FTI-initiative Produktion der Zukunft as well as projects such as SUSBIND funded by the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) and Austrian bioeconomy strategies.


(C) RTDS – Portrait: Stephen Webb (RTDS), Gerold Schneider (FRITZ EGGER GmbH), Christian Hansmann (Kompetenzzentrum Holz GmbH), Roxana Weiss-Anton (RTDS), Erik van Herwijnen (WoodKPlus), Moritz Bühner (FRITZ EGGER GmbH)


Austrian Bioeconomy Strategies for a Sustainable Development

During the one-day event, attended by approximately 50 participants from the Austrian research and industry environment, Stephen Webb (RTDS) and Moritz Bühner (FRITZ EGGER GmbH & Co. OG) presented the goals and aims of SUSBIND’s sustainable bio-based binders for wood boards to the audience in a shared presentation, hosted by Astrid Reinprecht (ÖGUT). SUSBIND was also presented at the so called “Marktplatz” in parallel to its twin project SUSFERT.

Further information: OPEN4INNOVATION / “Nachhaltig Wirtschaften


Author: Dr. Stefan Weiss

Dissemination & Communication / RTDS Group

BBI JU Stakeholder Forum 2019

This year Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) invited RTDS to represent SUSBIND during the highly anticipated Stakeholder Forum in Brussels, where around 650 participants from over 48 European countries were expected to visit the exhibition halls of the venue “The EGG” (Brussels Capital Region’s “Centre of Cultural Industries”) near the Brussels South Station.

“BBI JU is the public private partnership between the European commission and the Bio Based Industries Consortium representing the bio-based industry in Europe, investing € 3.7 billion in research and innovation with an expected impact on science and technology, but also addresses key challenges in the bio-based sector in Europe.“ Philippe Mengal (Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking, Executive Director)

The event was organized by the BBI JU as Stakeholder Forum 2019. During the two-days event, selected projects funded by the BBI JU programme under horizon 2020 were presented on stage for BBI JU’s stakeholders on day 1 and at project stands open to the public audience during day 2. Over 90 projects from all types of actions have been presented – 53 Research and Innovation Actions (TRL3-5), as well as Innovation Actions in 27 Demonstration (TRL6-7) as well as 11 Flagship projects (TRL8). In addition, Coordination and Support Actions such as the European Bioeconomy Library, Pilots4U or LIFT demonstrated, how to bridge the phase from lab-developments and market introduction, thereby helping to unleash the full potential of project results as a contribution to a more sustainable and competitive bio-based industry in Europe.


(C) RTDS – BBI JU Stakeholder Forum and Projects Day 2019


Discussion of Potential Partnerships on Circular Bio-based Europe (CBE) and the Role of Dissemination & Communication in Bioeconomy

Amongst the invited key speakers, Eleni Zika (Head of Programme, BBI JU) actively promoted the development of a sustainable circular bioeconomy in Europe, while Jürgen Lucas (Deputy Head of Unit, European Commission) elaborated on the common understanding in bio-based innovation systems and new local value from waste and biomass by introducing circular bio-based solutions.

“Consumers want a gradual transition from fossil based to bio-based alternatives.” Christine Lang (Chair of the German Bioeconomy Council)

Sylvia Schreiber (Economist & Science Communicator, KETBIO Biotech Transfer & CommBeBiz) and also Nelo Emerencia (Director of Programming, Bio Based Industries Consortium BIC) stressed the importance of communication to create awareness and involvement of citizens in particular.

“The industry is not the first to address the citizens. They must be addressed by their hearts not on a rational level only.” Nelo Emerencia (Director of Programming, Bio Based Industries Consortium BIC)

“We are in the transition phase passing from BIO WHAT? to BIO HOW? to BIO ACT!” Susanna Albertini (Found and Managing Director, New FVA Media Research)

Each session during the stakeholder forum was finished with an interactive live discussion at the forum (online tool: mentimeter.com) collecting questions and input from the audience using their smartphones. Thereby the panel discussion was enriched and further pushed onwards. Moreover, the whole event was well documented, and feedback from the audience will be published via the BBI JU website and social media profiles such as Twitter (@BBI2020 #BBISF19).


Author: Dr. Stefan Weiss

Dissemination & Communication / RTDS Group

European Summit of Industrial Biotechnology 2019

The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib GmbH) organized the European Summit of Industrial Biotechnology” (esib) for the fourth time, gathering the European biotechnology research and industry community on this communication platform for industrial biotechnology. The event not only covers science, but also addresses industrial needs and economic demands, funding resources and political aspirations, and provides the opportunity for networking in the beautiful city of Graz (Austria).


(C) RTDS – Portrait: Stephen Webb (RTDS), Martin Kavšček (ACIES BIO Ltd.), Nelo Emerencia (Director of Programming, Bio Based Industries Consortium BIC), Stefan Weiss (RTDS)


Presentations and Discussions on Trends in Science & Industry

Amongst 19 Sessions on “The learnings of H2020 and the Forecast to Horizon Europe”, “Novel Biorefinery and Biotechnology Concepts”, “Next Generation Biopolymers – Materials of the Future?” and 28 Science Flashes focusing on ideas with the potential to enter the market, SUSBIND was invited to the KETBIO Workshop: Boosting Biotech Research, were Stephen Webb (RTDS) presented the project and partake in the panel discussion with four other H2020 and innovative IB projects that encompass novel feedstocks and process technologies. Moreover, SUSBIND was presented over three days (November 18th-20th) in a twin booth with our Slovenian partners from ACIES BIO Ltd., who represented SUSFERT. Promoting SUSBIND and SUSFERT together helped disseminate both projects to a broader stakeholder group. Amongst the numerous visitors was Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) Programme Director Nelo Emerencia (Picture) and Ecoduna algae farm managing partner Dr. Silvia Fluch.

We are looking forward to the next esib in 2021, when Science meets Economy meets Politics again!


Author: Dr. Stefan Weiss

Dissemination & Communication / RTDS Group

Laboratory-scale Carbohydrate Conversion Reactions

(C) Photo Wood K Plus

Production of carbohydrate-based binders for wood products

The main task of Wood K plus in the SUSBIND project is the development of carbohydrate-based resins and other wood adhesive systems and characterization of the resins will be performed on laboratory scale. The most promising bio-based binders will then be up-scaled to pilot production and used for manufacturing P2 particleboards and medium density fiber boards (MDF).

The project partner Cargill did the selection of suitable carbohydrate feedstock. More information on the selection process can be found in a previous blog post. The selected carbohydrates are the monomers fructose and glucose as well as the oligomer maltodextrin. The investigation of conversion reactions is based on the selected feedstock.

Investigation of conversion reactions of carbohydrates

With regard to the final application in the wood board industry, the bio-based binder system must have a reduced carbon footprint and lower human health impact than the current fossil-based binder systems. Hence, special focus is put on the reaction conditions and materials used in the carbohydrate conversion reaction. The obtained reactive intermediates will be applied directly in the bio-based binder system and should meet the environmental and regulatory requirements.

The following criteria need to be assessed when investigating carbohydrate conversion reactions:

  • Sustainability
  • Reactivity of products
  • Utilization of suitable solvents and catalysts
  • Applicability for an in-situ process
  • Technical applicability in terms of large-scale production
  • Economic considerations
  • Efficient material and energy use

The conversion reaction must avoid using or generating substances that are harmful to humans and/or the environment. In addition, the chemical products of the conversion reaction have to perform in the desired way but be as non-toxic and non-hazardous as possible. In terms of reactivity, the produced intermediates must be able to crosslink in the subsequent polymerization reaction. Furthermore, the time needed for full curing of the bio-based resin should be comparable to commercial fossil-based binders with similar strength values.

In terms of the utilization of solvents, special focus is put on the utilization of the solvent in the follow-up resin production step. Water was identified as an ideal solvent that can be used in the carbohydrate conversion and the resin production.

The amount of conversion product that ends up in the final product must be maximized in order to have an economic and efficient process.

Selecting the most promising crosslinking systems

The literature was screened for the selection process of the most promising crosslinking systems based on the previously defined criteria. The carbohydrate conversion reactions will be tested in laboratory-scale to determine the practicability of the production method as well as to define the optimal parameters. The final selection of a potential precursor will be based on these results. The results of the literature screening will be topic of a follow-up blog post later this year.


Author: DI Catherine Thoma, BSc.

Junior Researcher, Area Wood Materials Technologies

Kompetenzzentrum Holz GmbH, Wood K plus


Related Blog Articles:

Recently published Open Access ManuscriptHydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) – A valuable, bio-derived platform chemical

International Day of Women & Girls in ScienceWood K plus portrays two dedicated researchers – Pia & Catherine

The “SUS” in SUSBIND: Ensuring Development of Sustainable Wood-based Panel Boards

SUSBIND aims at a bio-based adhesive outperforming current conventional adhesives by means of a significantly lower carbon footprint, while also reducing emissions that may have a negative effect on human health.

Glue as an Important Contributor Towards IKEAs Sustainability Goals

Glue contributes 6% to the total climate impact of IKEA. In a company of IKEAs size that’s a lot. Finding a renewable based solution is a priority in order to meet two key goals set out in the IKEA sustainability strategy.

SUSBIND at an Austrian-Dutch Network Event

On the initiative of the Austrian embassy in the Netherlands and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, a networking event between Austrian and Dutch research institutes and universities was organized on March 21-22 in the Hague, Netherlands.

Enzymes – An Important Part of our Daily Life

For thousands of years, people have been using microorganisms for the production of foods such as beer, wine, vinegar, bread and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. Within SUSBIND project, enzymes play an important role as well.