Lignocellulose, the main constituent of plant cell walls, has become the most important renewable carbon source of bio-energy and chemicals because it is available in such large quantities. Lignin, a significant fraction of lignocellulose, remains burnt or discarded after industrial processing of the plant material, with only 2% of its generated weight finding commercial applications. The efficient valorization of lignin is hindered by the lack of selectivity of most de-polymerization approaches.
The primary aim of this project is to develop an efficient, selective and sustainable process for de-polymerizing lignin into valuable aromatic compounds. To achieve this goal, we are investigating copper-doped porous metal oxides as cheap yet efficient catalysts for the selective breaking of specific lignin linkages.
Our methodology has the potential to provide an abundant and renewable source of platform chemicals from what is currently a low-value bio-waste from the production of liquid fuel and from the paper industry. The implementation of such a technology could thus render biofuel production more economically viable by reducing waste streams and increasing value-added products.
Katalin Barta, Genoa R. Warner, Evan S. Beach and Paul T. Anastas; “Depolymerization of organosolv lignin to aromatic compounds over Cu-doped porous metal oxides”; Green Chem.; 2014, 16, 191.