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High-value co-products made from lignin

Products developed from lignin can make a wood-based biorefinery profitable.

Based on current estimates, for every ton of forest slash used to make bio-jet fuel, 1450 pounds of lignin-rich solids that left over as a byproduct. The most common strategy for using these lignin-rich solids is to burn them for heating and electrical needs.

While this strategy remains a potentially valid one, NARA researchers have developed products made from the lignin-rich solids.

NARA estimates that these lignin-rich products could contribute up to 42% of the revenue generated by a biorefinery that converts forest harvest residuals in biojet fuel.

NARA’s work has resulted in:

  • the chemical characterization of lignin resulting from the sulfite-based pretreatment and fermentation process developed by NARA.
  • materials with many commercial applications, such as activated carbon, thermal plastics, epoxies, and industrial chemical feedstocks, created from the NARA lignin.
  • methods to chemically alter lignin into platform molecules used to make valuable chemical feedstocks.

NARA Co Products

This video describes the economic rational for developing co-products within a forest slash-to-biojet supply chain. Varied types of co-products are explored.


Peer-reviewed papers

Unique Low-molecular-weight Lignin with High Purity Extracted from Wood by Deep Eutectic Solvents (DES): A Source of Lignin for Valorization

Alvarez-Vasco, C., Ma, R., Quintero, M., Guo, M., Geleynse, S., Ramasamy, K.K., Wolcott, M. & Zhang, X. (2016). Unique low-molecular-weight lignin with high purity extracted from wood by deep eutectic solvents (DES): a source of lignin for valorization. Green Chemistry. Online edition. Retrieved 6/21/16 at!divAbstract

Arogenate Dehydratase Isoenzymes Profoundly and Differentially Modulate Carbon Flux into Lignins

Corea, O.R.A., Ki, C., Cardenas, C.L., Kim, S.J., Brewer, S.E., Patten, A.M., Davin, L.B., & Lewis, N.G. (2012). Arogenate dehydratase isoenzymes profoundly and differentially modulate carbon flux into lignins. J. Biol. Chem., 287, 11446-11459. doi:10.1074/jbc.M111.322164

Mechanochemical Oleation of Lignin through Ball Milling and Properties of its Blends with PLA.

Guo, X., Xin, J., Wolcott, M.P. & Zhang, J. (2016). Mechanochemical oleation of lignin through ball milling and properties of its blends with PLA. Chemistry Select, 1(13), 3449-3454. doi:10.1002/slct.201600633

Understanding the Effects of Lignosulfonate on Enzymatic Saccharification of Pure Cellulose

Lou, H., Zhou, H., Li, X., Wang, M., Zhu, J.Y., & Qiu, X. (2014). Understanding the effects of lignosulfonate on enzymatic saccharification of pure cellulose. Cellulose, 21,1351-1359. doi: 10.1007/s10570-014-0237-z

Peracetic Acid Depolymerization of Biorefinery Lignin for Production of Selective Monomeric Phenolic Compounds

Ma, R., Guo, M., Lin, K., Hebert, V.R., Zhang, J., Wolcott, M.P., Quintero, M., Ramasamy, K.K., Chen, X., & Zhang, X. (1016). Peracetic acid depolymerization of biorefinery lignin for production of selective monomeric phenolic compounds. Chem. Eur.J., 22, 1-9. doi: 10.1002/chem.201600546

Selective Conversion of Biorefinery Lignin to Dicarboxylic Acids

Ma, R.S., Guo, M., & Zhang, X. (2014). Selective conversion of biorefinery lignin to dicarboxylic acids. ChemSusChem, 7(2), 412-415. doi: 10.1002/cssc.201300964

Catalytic Oxidation of Biorefinery Lignin to Value-added Chemicals to Support Sustainable Biofuel Production

Ma, R.S., Xu, Y. & Zhang, X. (2015). Catalytic oxidation of biorefinery lignin to value-added chemicals to support sustainable biofuel production. ChemSusChem, 8(1), 24-51. doi: 10.1002/cssc.201402503

Extractives in Douglas-fir Forestry Residue and Considerations for Biofuel Production

Oleson, K.R. & Schwartz, D.T. (2015). Extractives in Douglas-fir forestry residue and considerations for biofuel production. Phytochemistry Review, online edition, 1-24. doi: 10.1007/s11101-015-9444-y

Biorefinery Lignosulfonates from Sulfite-Pretreated Softwoods as Dispersant for Graphite

Qin, Y., Chang, Y., Wu, R., Yang, D., Qiu, X. & Zhu, J.Y. (2016). Biorefinery lignosulfonates from sulfite-pretreated softwoods as dispersant for graphite. ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 4, 2200–2205. doi:10.1021/acssuschemeng.5b01664

Use of Polycarboxylic Acid Derived from Partially Depolymerized Lignin as a Curing Agent for Epoxy Application

Qin, J., Wolcott, M., & Zhang, J. (2014). Use of polycarboxylic acid derived from partially depolymerized lignin as a curing agent for epoxy application. ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2(2), 188-193. doi: 10.1021/sc400227v

Path to Plastics Composed of Ligninsulphonates (Lignosulfonates)

Wang, Y.-Y., Chen, Y.-r., Sarkanen, S. (2015). Path to plastics composed of ligninsulphonates (lignosulfonates). Green Chemistry, 17, 5069-5078.

A Green Epoxy Resin System Based on Lignin and Tung Oil and its Application in Epoxy Asphalt

Xin, J., Li, M., Li, R., Wolcott, M.P. & Zhang, J. (2016) A green epoxy resin system based on lignin and tung oil and its application in epoxy asphalt. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, 4(5), 2754-2761. doi: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b00256

Partial Depolymerization of Enzymolysis Lignin via Mild Hydrogenolysis Over Raney Nickel

Xin, J, Zhang, P., Wolcott, M.P., Zhang, X., & Zhang, J. (2014). Partial depolymerization of enzymolysis lignin via mild hydrogenolysis over Raney Nickel. Bioresource Technology, 155, 422-426. doi: 10.1016/j.biortech.2013.12.092.


Compositions Including Lignin

Chen, Y.-r., Sarkanen, S., & Wang, Y.-Y. “Compositions Including Lignin.” International Patent Application No. PCT/US2015/020599. March 2015.


Lignin as a Biorefinery Co-product Market Opportunity

Cline, S.P. (2016). Lignin as a biorefinery co-product market opportunity. M.Sc.Thesis, The Pennsylvania State University.