The development of chemical methods for the direct catalytic conversion of biomass to high value organic molecules is an area of increasing interest. The plant matter component known as lignin is a polymer consisting of aromatic rings that could provide a means of obtaining aromatic materials currently derived solely from petroleum. This report describes a bimetallic Pd/C and Zn catalytic system that can perform selective hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) of monomeric lignin surrogates as well as successfully cleave the β-O-4 linkages found in dimeric lignin model complexes and synthetic lignin polymers with near quantitative conversions and yields between 80-90%. The reaction with lignin polymer was highly selective affording methoxy substituted propylphenol as the major product. These reactions were performed in a Parr reactor operating at relatively mild temperature (150 °C) and pressure (20 bar H2) using methanol as a solvent. Reaction products were characterized using high-pressure liquid chromatography coupled to a linear quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer equipped with an electrospray ionization source using negative ion mode. Hydroxide ions were doped into the analyte solutions to encourage negative ion formation. This method ionizes all the mixture components to yield a single ion/analyte with no fragmentation. The catalyst is fully recyclable without the need for additional zinc. X-ray absorption spectroscopy (EXAFS) is consistent with Pd nanoparticles (4-5 nm) and no evidence of Pd-Zn alloy formation. A mechanistic hypothesis on the synergy between Pd and Zn is presented.
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