There is a growing interest in lignin valorization to biofuels and chemicals. Here, we propose a novel and simple noncatalytic process to directly liquefy lignin rich solid residual from second generation bioethanol production by solvolysis with ethanol. Through an extensive parameter study in batch autoclaves assessing the effects of varying reaction temperature, reaction time, and solvent:lignin ratio, it is shown that hydrothermally pretreated enzymatic hydrolysis lignin solvolysis in supercritical ethanol can produce a heptane soluble bio-oil without the need for exhaustive deoxygenation. The process does not require addition of catalyst or a reducing agent such as hydrogen. The process is advantageously carried out with a low reaction period ((<1 h) and with a reduced amount of solvent to lignin feedstock (ethanol:lignin (w/w) ratio of 2:1) which is a previously unexplored domain for lignin solvolysis. The resulting bio-oil product is mainly a mixture of di- and monomeric lignin species where the original lignin unit linkages have been broken. The oxygen content is lowered to <10 wt %(corresponding to an HHV of 36 MJ/kg) and the bio-oil is stable and acid free (verified by NMR), and due to the use of sulfur free lignin rich residual as feedstock, the resulting oil product is equally sulfur free. The residual solid product (char) has a reduced oxygen content relative to the lignin feed and equally increased higher heating value, making it a candidate for use as a biochar.
Nielsen, J. B., Jensen, A., Madsen, L. R., Larsen, F. H., Felby, C., & Jensen, A. D. (2017). Noncatalytic Direct Liquefaction of Biorefinery Lignin by Ethanol. Energy and Fuels, 31(7), 7223-7233. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.energyfuels.7b00968