Lignin biomass conversion into chemicals and fuels

Mayra Melián Rodríguez

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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Second-generation biomass or lignocellulosic biomass, which is mainly composed of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, is a very important and promising feedstock for the renewable production of fuels and chemicals of the future. Lignin is the second most abundant natural polymer, representing 30% of the weight and 40% of the energy content of lignocellulosic biomass. While designated applications for cellulose already exist in form of the current pulp and paper production as well as its prospective hydrolysis and fermentation into biofuels (mainly bioethanol), sustainable ways to valorize the lignin fraction of wood are yet to be established, due to its poor solubility and complex heterogeneous structure. This constitutes a major drawback in
the economic viability of a biorefinery, where complete valorization of lignocellulosic biomass is necessary. For this reason, and due to its potential as a valuable feedstock for the production of organic chemicals, lignin valorization has become an important issue to solve.
For a better understanding and analysis of the catalytic performance of lignin, it is common to use lignin model compounds, which contain the most significant linkages present in lignin and show similar, although simplified, characteristics to the natural biopolymer. Among them, the
most abundant structural unit is the β-O-4, representing approximately 60% of the bonds in hardwood and 45-50% of those in softwood.
Oxidative depolymerization is one of the most viable methods for lignin valorization. It involves the cleavage of ether bonds, such as β-O-4 and other linkages present in lignin and its model compounds, giving aldehydes or carboxylic acids as products, depending on the reaction conditions used. In Chapter 2 of this thesis, the preparation, characterization and catalytic performance of heterogeneous catalysts for the aerobic oxidation of β-O-4 lignin model compounds (veratryl alcohol and guaiacyl glycerol-β-guaiacyl ether) is discussed.
The use of an environmentally friendly process, the organosolv process, for treating lignocellulosic biomass in the presence of a solvent and using reaction conditions under which at least part of the lignin is separated from the biomass, is described in Chapter 3. Different catalysts and reaction conditions have been studied in order to optimize the organosolv process for the production of high-quality lignin for further upgrading.
At the end of this thesis, Chapter 4, a catalytic process is described for the valorization of lignin, consisting of a two-step catalytic system. The two-step catalytic system involved catalytic oxidation, followed by hydrogenolysis. A catalytic system was developed for lignin hydrogenolysis and the influence of the temperature and reaction time was studied for the catalytic oxidation of lignin.
The results presented in this thesis contribute to a better understanding of the various factors influencing the production of bulk aromatic chemicals from lignin, including valuable knowledge regarding catalyst activity and stability, optimal conditions for the valorization of lignin and lignin model compounds, and a process for the extraction of lignin from wood. Hence, it is necessary to further develop catalytic processes to enable the transformation of lignin from a low quality, low-price waste product into a high-quality, high-value feedstock for bulk and specialty chemicals
by the development of the appropriate catalytic technology.
This transformation is critical because lignin represents the only viable renewable source to produce the aromatic compounds on which society currently depends.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDTU Chemistry
Number of pages158
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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