Lignin valorization offers significant potential to enhance the economic viability of lignocellulosic biorefineries. However, because of its heterogeneous and recalcitrant nature, conversion of lignin to value-added coproducts remains a considerable technical challenge. In this study, we employ base-catalyzed depolymerization (BCD) using a process-relevant solid lignin stream produced via deacetylation, mechanical refining, and enzymatic hydrolysis to enable biological lignin conversion. BCD was conducted with the solid lignin substrate over a range of temperatures at two NaOH concentrations, and the results demonstrate that the lignin can be partially extracted and saponified at temperatures as low as 60°C. At 120°C and 2% NaOH, the high extent of lignin solubility was accompanied by a considerable decrease in the lignin average molecular weight and the release of lignin-derived monomers including hydroxycinnamic acids. BCD liquors were tested for microbial growth using seven aromatic-catabolizing bacteria and two yeasts. Three organisms (Pseudomonas putida KT2440, Rhodotorula mucilaginosa, and Corynebacterium glutamicum) tolerate high BCD liquor concentrations (up to 90% v/v) and rapidly consume the main lignin-derived monomers, resulting in lignin conversion of up to 15%. Furthermore, as a proof of concept, muconic acid production from a representative lignin BCD liquor was demonstrated with an engineered P. putida KT2440 strain. These results highlight the potential for a mild lignin depolymerization process to enhance the microbial conversion of solid lignin-rich biorefinery streams.
- Base-catalyzed depolymerization
- Biological conversion
- Lignin liquor
- Lignin monomers
- Muconic acid