A series of Sn-MCM-41 nanoparticles (XS-Sn-MCM-41) with a diameter ranging from 20 to 140 nm and very high specific surface area were successfully prepared and tested as heterogeneous catalysts for the conversion of the triose sugar dihydroxyacetone to ethyl lactate. Characterization of the materials indicated that the physicochemical properties of the nanoparticles can be significantly affected by different synthesis parameters, including the metal loading, the sequence of adding the Si and Sn precursors into the synthesis mixture, the preparation time and temperature. Most of the XS-Sn-MCM-41 catalysts displayed higher activity compared to conventional Sn-MCM-41 with large particle size in the conversion of dihydroxyacetone into ethyl lactate. The superiority of the best XS-Sn-MCM-41 catalyst in terms of conversion and turnover number is correlated to its high amount of accessible acid sites, which in turn is ascribed to a combination of different physicochemical features such as high surface area, particles morphology and coordination of the tin atoms in tetrahedral framework sites. The best catalyst can be reused in consecutive runs without loss of activity.
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