The wide range of liquid-phase reactions required for the catalytic conversion of biomass compounds into new bioplatform molecules defines a new set of challenges for the development of active, selective, and stable catalysts. The potential of bifunctional Ru/H-USY catalysts for conversions in hot liquid water (HLW) is assessed in terms of physicochemical stability and long-term catalytic performance of acid sites and noble metal functionality, as probed by hydrolytic hydrogenation of cellulose. It is shown that zeolite desilication is the main zeolite degradation mechanism in HLW. USY zeolite stability depends on two main parameters, viz., framework and extra-framework aluminum content. The former protects the zeolite lattice by counteracting hydrolysis of framework bonds, and the latter, when located at the external crystal surface, prevents solubilization of the zeolite framework which is the result of its low water-solubility. Hence, the hot liquid water stability of commercial H-USY zeolites, in contrast to their steam stability, increased with decreasing Si/Al ratio. As a result, mildly steamed USY zeolites containing a high amount of both Al species exhibit the highest resistance to HLW. During an initial period of transformations, Al-rich zeolites form additional protective extra-framework Al species at the outer surface, self-stabilizing the framework. A critical bulk Si/Al ratio of 3 was determined whereby USY zeolites with a lower Si/Al ratio will
self-stabilize over time. Besides, due to the initial transformation period, the accessibility of the catalytic active sites is extensively enhanced resulting in a material that is more stable and drastically more accessible to large substrates than the original zeolite.
When these findings are applied in the hydrolytic hydrogenation of cellulose, unprecedented nearly quantitative hexitol yields were obtained with a stable catalytic system.