New Process Could Make Renewables Production Easier

A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory explores the conversion of lignin into renewable chemicals, fuels, and materials that could help sustain the energy economy.

The NREL Lignin Study shows a new method for upgrading lignin, a heterogeneous aromatic polymer used by plants to strengthen their cell walls, in the production of renewables. The new process involves biological conversions of lignin-utilizing organisms that would result in aromatic molecules that could be used as energy and carbon sources.

“Biorefineries that convert cellulosic biomass into liquid transportation fuels typically generate more lignin than necessary to power the operation,” NREL Senior Engineer and a co-author of the study Gregg Beckham said.  “Strategies that incorporate new approaches to transform the leftover lignin to more diverse and valuable products are desperately needed.”

“The conceptual approach we demonstrate can be applied to many different types of biomass feedstocks and combined with many different strategies for breaking down lignin, engineering the biological pathways to produce different intermediates, and catalytically upgrading the biologically-derived product to develop a larger range of valuable molecules derived from lignin,” Beckham said. “It holds promise for a wide variety of industrial applications. While this is very exciting, certainly there remains a significant amount of technology development to make this process economically viable.”

The NREL has already filed a patent application for this new process

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