Lignin pyrolysis for profitable lignocellulosic biorefineries

Wild, P.J. de; Gosselink, R.J.A.; Huijgen, W.J.J.


Bio-based industries (pulp and paper and biorefineries) produce > 50 Mt/yr of lignin that results from fractionation of lignocellulosic biomass. Lignin is world's second biopolymer and a major potential source for production of performance materials and aromatic chemicals. Lignin valorization is a key-issue for enhanced profitability of sustainable bio-based industries. Despite a myriad of potential applications for lignin and decades of research, its heterogeneity and recalcitrance still preclude commercial value-added applications. Most lignin is utilized for heat and power. Unconventional solutions are needed to better exploit lignin's potential. Organosolv lignins are especially suitable as feedstock for high-value chemicals. At ECN, a lignin biorefinery approach (LIBRA) has been developed, involving a dedicated lignin pyrolysis protocol that is robust, continuous, and capable of processing different lignins. Typical product yields are 20% gas, 35% char, and 45% oil. The oil contains approximately 45% oligomeric phenolic substances, 23% monomeric phenols, and 33% water. The future perspective is scale-up of the process to produce larger lignin pyrolysis oil samples for separation, purification, and industrial application tests. Presently, small lignin pyrolysis oil samples are investigated as feedstock for extracting high-value chemicals, as a substitute for phenol in several applications, and as a feedstock for hydrotreating. The biochar is tested as growth enhancer and as substitute for carbon-black in rubber. Regarding the large lignin side streams from (future) bio-based industries, the LIBRA pyrolysis technology has ample potential to increase the profitability of lignocellulosic biorefineries provided that for both the liquid product and the solid char value-added applications are developed.