Call for partners: Production of a more reactive lignin

Lignin, a byproduct of many industries, is a resource that offers remarkable potential. Wageningen Food and Biobased Research is seeking partners for a research project that will shed light on the properties of lignin and its potential for value-added applications.

The valorisation of lignin lies at the heart of the burgeoning biobased industry. Lignin, which is present in about 20-25% of lignocellulosic biomass, is released as a side-stream in the pulp and paper, horticultural, agricultural and biorefinery industries. At present, these lignin-rich side-streams are mainly used for internal energy generation but a higher value-added use is essential for the economic profitability of lignocellulosic biorefineries. Lignin has the potential to become a renewable source of aromatic compounds, which are key to a biobased chemical industry since some 40% of all current chemicals are aromatics.

It is vital that fossil-based commodities be replaced with biobased alternatives. Among the most attractive candidates for replacement in the aromatic compound category are phenolic resins (market volume of 1 million tonne/year) and polyols for polyurethane-based products.

What the project will involve

The aim of this project is to increase the reactivity of lignin as a macromer and to understand the relationship between the lignin structure and increased reactivity/functionality. We will use the sophisticated lignin characterisation tools that WFBR has developed, combined with our existing knowledge of lignin functionalisation. To increase reactivity, we will characterise lignins resulting from existing or near-future biorefinery operations and then further functionalise them under mild conditions. The aim is to keep the macromer structure of lignin, while at the same time increasing reactivity. In other words, we aim to:

  1. Understand and maintain and/or improve lignin reactivity and develop scalable environmentally friendly processes that increase this reactivity
  2. Understand the relationship between fractionation conditions and lignin reactivity and the resulting potential for a range of applications fractionation of lignin
  3. Create a value chain by collaborating with various non-competitive industrial partners

Call for partners

We are seeking a public-private sponsorship involving a number of industrial partners who can create a value chain in collaboration with Wageningen Food and Biobased Research. The first phase of the project is scheduled for July 2020 to December 2021, with a projected budget of 300,000 to 500,000 euro. Half of the budget will come from strategic investment by WFBR, and the other half from companies (as cash and in-kind contributions).