Amalie Elise Modvig has conducted her Ph.D. thesis
in BioValue’s project 5.

Below is a short summary of her findings and an invitation to the defense.

PhD title: Selective Oxidations of Biomass-Derived Chemicals

Many of the industrial chemical-processes are based on fossil feedstock, however, depleting fossil resources has increased the demand for the development of new efficient processes for chemical production from renewable feedstocks. In this sense, biomass provides a promising alternative for the production of chemicals due to its high carbon-content (42-54%).1 Recently, the C2 sugar, glycolaldehyde, has received increasing attention as a promising platform molecule and several methods for the selective conversion of sugars into glycolaldehyde has been developed. Catalysis often provide the more efficient and environmental benign solutions for the conversion of these raw bio-materials into add value products. The main objective of this PhD was the development of new efficient heterogeneous catalysts for the selective oxidation of biomass-derived glycolaldehyde into feasible chemicals, such as glycolic acid and formic acid.

Glycolic acid is an interesting C2 molecule, which has found application in many fields including the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. In this work, glycolic acid was successfully obtained from oxidation of glycolaldehyde under mild, aqueous and base-free reaction conditions using a heterogeneous catalyst, which can easily be separated from the product solution. The optimized catalytic system afforded up to 68% glycolic acid, limited by the formation of the over-oxidation product, CO2.

Formic acid is a C1 molecule used primarily in the feed industry, grass silage, leather tanning, and in anti-icing. Glycolaldehyde was successfully converted into formic acid (up to 88%) under mild aqueous and base-free reaction conditions. The particle size of the support was found to influence the catalysts performance. The conversion of glycoaldehyde to formic acid was mainly hindered by competing formation of glycolaldehyde condensation products at mild conditions and by CO2– and hummin formation at elevated temperatures.

This PhD study was performed in collaboration with Haldor Topsøe


(1)         Baskar, C.; Baskar, S.; Dhillon, R. S. In Biomass Conversion: the Interface of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Materials Science; Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, 2012; p. 6.

We hope you can participate at Amalie’s defense:

Time: Friday, August 25th at 13 o’clock

Place: Building XX, room XX, DTU (will be announced soon…)

Main supervisor: Professor Anders Riisager, Department of Chemistry, Technical University of Denmark

Contact information: Amalie Elise Modvig, email:

Defense title: Selective Oxidations of Biomass-Derived Chemicals