Converting lignin into bioaromatics

The paper industry, agriculture, landscape management and newly developed biorefinery chains produce many lignin-containing side streams. Lignin is the so-called woody tissue in trees. This substance can be converted, among other things, into highly valuable building blocks for polymers, resins, adhesives and chemicals (bioaromatics).

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has ample experience in applied research into the high-quality use (valorisation) of side streams. Via valorisation we can save costs or even generate income from side streams. We have gained specific experience in  lignin, which is available on earth in plentiful amounts. In addition to characterising lignin-rich side streams, we develop conversion technologies that make it possible to convert lignin into high-quality products such as resins, adhesives and chemicals. Resins and adhesives can be used in construction materials such as multiplex, MDF and fibre boards. As a polymer building block, lignin can be used in polyesters, foams, coatings and varnishes. In addition, lignin can be used to make bioaromatics such as phenols, benzene, toluene and xylene (BTX), and terephtalic acid.

High-quality use of lignin

Lignin is currently mainly  used as an energy source in industrial processes, but energy is not the most valuable application for lignin. Using lignin as an energy source therefore represents a considerable loss in value. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is specialised in the possibility of extracting high-quality components from lignin first, while whatever remains can still be used as an energy source. In this way, we create added value for the industry. While the possibilities for the use of lignin in valuable building blocks can be shown on laboratory scale, further product development requires follow-up research together with industrial partners. To realise this, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research works with a range of partners, including in the Wageningen UR Lignin Platform and various European networks and projects (such as Catchbio, EUBiocore and YXY Fuels).

Developing technologies

The high-quality use of lignin-rich side streams is essential in making biorefinery processes cheaper and more efficient, and it is therefore extremely valuable to the industry involved. Added value can be generated if we can first isolate and make high-quality products before using lignin-rich side streams for energy. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is currently developing techniques to produce monomer aromatics from lignin (very selectiveby using catalysis) We also modify lignin under mild conditions using enzymes. The smaller lignin fragments are relevant to the chemical industry, the lignin fractions to polymers, and the modified lignin to applications that require specific lignin characteristics (such as emulsions and coatings). Upon the request of clients, we can analyse the entire value chain of lignin-rich side streams up to the application stage, and where necessary develop the most suitable technology to produce the desired end product. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has ample knowledge of biomass, available side streams, the composition of side streams, separation and conversion, and application tests on laboratory and pilot scale. This allows us to provide you with a sound advice on the use of lignin-rich side streams and to work together on the development of valuable end products.