Lignin – much more valuable than just as waste
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Lignin – much more valuable than just as waste

6:04 AM, 10th November 2017
Lignin – much more valuable than just as waste
The researcher Swarnima Agnihotri has spent a year at the University of Boras refining the methods to extract the lignin from the lignin rich wheat straw.

Lignin, a substance considered as a waste product in biomass and ethanol production, will now reach its proper value as bio-oil in new products.

Lignin is a natural substance in biomass, but it is unwanted in processes like production of paper or ethanol. In those processes, lignin is considered as waste and is used as fuel in heat and power plants. At the University of Boras, a team of researchers investigate methods to extract and refine lignin for better purposes than burning it.

While the commercial lignocellulose to ethanol plants use the lignin after pretreatment as biomass feedstock to heat and power plants, in the Horizon 2020 project AGROinLOG, lignin will instead be transformed into bio-oil based products.

The researcher Swarnima Agnihotri has spent a year at the University of Boras refining the methods to extract the lignin from the lignin-rich wheat straw. She explained:

“If biofuels are to become a reality, we need to realize the industrial potential of lignin and get more value from it,” she said. “Seeing the complexity and richness of its functional groups, there are various potential applications of lignin by converting it in variety of value-added products like high-performance carbon fibre, bio-oil and vanillin, to name a few.”

The project aims at utilizing an agricultural residue, wheat straw, which is available in surplus in Sweden, and also in other European countries.

“Wheat straw lignin valorization will add value to the whole process, and in turn provide benefit to industry, as well as further insight in creating value from lignin, which has been considered a waste until now,” she said

Integration of lignocellulose-based feedstock in ethanol plants is not new. There are a number of techniques already producing ethanol from lignocelluloses at commercial scale.

“It is the high investment costs and the low profitability of the process which needs to be addressed. The goal with this AGROinLOG project will be to see the possibilities of adding a high valuable byproduct eg. bio-oil, to the whole production chain, and therefore increase the profitability of the process.

The next step

“Now, when we have optimized an efficient pretreatment process for effective lignin extraction from wheat straw, we will scale up the process, and the pure lignin obtained will be transformed into bio-oil through a hydrothermal liquefaction process done, that  is, extracting liquid and get a concentrated oil. The bio-oil product obtained will be a highly valuable byproduct since it can be further upgraded in refineries to obtain green chemicals and biofuels,” she said.

© University of Boras

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