Biomass is a plentiful renewable source of energy, food, feed and chemicals. It fixes about 1–2% of the solar energy received by the Earth through photosynthesis in both terrestrial and aquatic plants like macro- and microalgae. As fossil resources deplete, biomass appears a good complement and eventually a good substitute feedstock, but still needs the development of relatively new catalytic processes. For this purpose, catalytic transformations, whether alone or combined with thermal ones and separation operations, have been under study in recent years. Catalytic biorefineries are based on dehydration-hydrations, hydrogenations, oxidations, epimerizations, isomerizations, aldol condensations and other reactions to obtain a plethora of chemicals, including alcohols, ketones, furans and acids, as well as materials such as polycarbonates. Nevertheless, there is still a need for higher selectivity, stability, and regenerability of catalysts and of process intensification by a wise combination of operations, either in-series or combined (one-pot), to reach economic feasibility. Here we present a literature survey of the latest developments for obtaining value-added products using hexoses and pentoses derived from lignocellulosic material, as well as algae as a source of carbohydrates for subsequent transformations.
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