As mentioned in several recent reviews, biomass-based furfural is attracting increasing interest as a feasible alternative for the synthesis of a wide range of non-petroleum-derived compounds. However, the lack of environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and sustainable industrial procedures is still evident. This review describes the chemical and biological routes for furfural production. The mechanisms proposed for the chemical transformation of xylose to furfural are detailed, as are the current advances in the manufacture of furfural from biomass. The main goal is to overview the different ways of improving the furfural synthesis process. A pretreatment process, particularly chemical and physico-chemical, enhances the digestibility of biomass, leading to the production of >70 % of available sugars for the production of valuable products. The combination of heterogeneous (zeolite and polymeric solid) catalyst and biphasic solvent system (water/GVL and water/CPME) is regarded as an attractive approach, affording >75 % furfural yield for over 80 % of selectivity with the possibility of catalyst reuse. Microwave heating as an activation technique reduces reaction time at least tenfold, making the process more sustainable. The state of the art in industrial processes is also discussed. It shows that, when sulfuric acid is used, the furfural yields do not exceed 55 % for temperatures close to 180 °C. However, the MTC process recently achieved an 83 % yield by continuously removing furfural from the liquid phase. Finally, the CIMV process, using a formic acid/acetic acid mixture, has been developed. The economic aspects of furfural production are then addressed. Future research will be needed to investigate scaling-up and biological techniques that produce acceptable yields and productivities to become commercially viable and competitive in furfural production from biomass.
- Biological technique
- Green solvent