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Low-Calorie Sweetener Sans the Tooth Decay! Experts Develop Cheap, Sustainable Way to Make Polyalcohols

Dec 10, 2016 03:30 AM EST
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Polyalcohols or sugar alcohols are almost heaven-sent for the sweet tooth. Commonly used as a sweetener by the food industry, polyphenols are somehow lesser evil compared to usual sugars, because although not completely free of calories, they deliver that pleasurable sweet taste for less calories and less effect on your blood glucose without wrecking your teeth with tooth decay too.

The American Diabetes Association lists erythritol, glycerol or glycerine, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol as some examples of sugar alcohols.

However, products with polyphenols can be hard to come by. This is due to the fact that although some polyphenols may be found naturally, isolation is rare and industrial synthesis requires difficult and meticulous biochemical processes to process sugars, which involve carefully controlled temperatures, concentrations, and pH levels -- a major turn off for large-scale manufacturers.

Fortunately, researchers from the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ) in Tarragona, Spain and ETH Zurich, Switzerland successfully developed a process to get sweeteners, such as mannitol or ribitol, from highly available, affordable and sustainable sources like glucose or arabinose. The novel technique prepares polyalcohols from biomass using two consecutive metallic catalysts featuring molybdenum and ruthenium.

"The idea combines a first step where sugar atoms are reorganized thanks to a molybdenum-based catalyst and a second hydrogenation step catalysed by ruthenium. This method allows researchers to obtain valuable polyalcohols like mannitol or ribitol from cheap and widely available products like glucose or arabinose," according to a press release via Eureka Alert.

According to the article, the team's solution was founded on the heterogeneous catalysis, which is a common approach used by the industry, for example, in oil cracking, car catalysts, synthesis of ammonia.

The team at ICIQ, led by Prof. Núria López, carried out the computer simulations that helped improve the design of the catalysts.

"Thanks to the powerful resources of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the Spanish Supercomputing Network we were able to model catalytic processes with an unprecedented level of precision and complexity. This new approach increases the potential applications of biomass in industry," López concluded, Phys.Org reports.

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