Lignin comprises between 15 to 30% of biomass1, yet it is under-utilized in comparison to the cellulosic and hemicellulosic portions. Instead, lignin is typically seen as a waste product to be burned as a low value fuel for cellulosic processes. However, the Lignin Group at Georgia Tech, along with other groups around the world, see this complex aromatic structure as a precursor for fine chemicals and fuels.
Effective utilization of lignin will be an important step to reaching the goals set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy to derive 20% of transportation fuels and 25% of U.S. fine chemicals from biomass by 20301. The European Union has set a similar goal of 20% for renewable energy’s share of energy consumption by 20202.
However, lignin’s irregular three-dimensional nature inhibits many traditional chemical systems. Therefore, the GT Lignin Group has set out to research new and innovative technologies that provide feasible chemical upgrading routes for lignin. When the challenges in valorization of lignin are overcome, the resulting products will be a valuable addition to the biofuel and fine chemicals markets.
1. Perlack, R. D.; Wright, L. L.; Turhollow, A. F.; Graham, R. L.; Stokes, B. J.; Erbach, D. C. U. S. Department of Energy, Biomass as Feedstock for a bioenergy and bioproducts industry: the technical feasibility of a billion-ton annual supply, 2005.
2. European Parliament and the Council, Directive 2009/28/EC, 2009.