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A sweet way to replace petroleum?

A variety of products now manufactured from petroleum could one day be made instead from simple sugar molecules, thanks to a new chemical process.

Compounds derived from petroleum are the chemical building blocks of many consumer goods, including plastics and pharmaceuticals. With the price of crude oil skyrocketing, researchers are on the lookout for alternatives, says Z. Conrad Zhang, a chemist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. One promising candidate is a molecule called 5-hydroxymethylfurfural or HMF.

Chemists typically make HMF from fructose in a strongly acidic, water-based solution. Under such conditions, much of the HMF that forms quickly breaks down, and it's difficult to purify what remains intact.

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