DENTON (UNT), Texas -- As options for biofuels and the number of biorefineries across the world continue to grow, biofuel producers will find themselves with large amounts of lignin, a waste product of creating biofuels and a substance that makes plants woody and firm. University of North Texas Distinguished Research Professor Richard Dixon and Research Professor Fang Chen have outlined ways companies can commercialize and profit from lignin in the May 16 issue of Science.
Currently, biorefineries remove lignin from plants in order to access cellulose, or the sugary component of a plant that can be fermented and turned into biofuel. Biorefineries will have excess lignin after fuel production, and Dixon and Chen suggest that several high-value products can be produced from that leftover lignin. Those products include carbon fiber; engineering plastics and thermoplastic elastomers, which can be stretched and formed to produce other products; synthetic foams and membranes; and other fuels, products and chemicals currently sourced from petroleum.
"Before our recent discoveries involving lignin, we thought lignin was just lignin, and there was nothing else we could do with it," Dixon said. "Now we know that businesses can use this material to create and replace petroleum-sourced products on the market, which is good for the environment."
Read the full article in Science at http://www.sciencemag.org
A Q&A on lignin from Oak Ridge National Laboratory can be found online at: http://www.ornl.gov/ornl/news/features/2014/a-tipping-point-for-lignin-.