Monday, May 19, 2014

Bionic µfuel technology unlocks potential of Lignin

As early as 2009 experiments have been conducted using pure lignin as a sample feedstock for Bionic's µfuel technology. A detailed report about the laboratory level tests has been published by a scientific partner, Erik Karlsen, in a Danish chemical journal. An English translation can be downloaded from Bionic servers: "From Lignin to Oil by Microwaves".

The central finding from the above report: the studied liquid product phase consisted of more than 85% phenols and still more than 75% methoxy phenols. This result suggests a significantly more homogeneous liquid phase from the Bionic µfuel process than reported so far in any other available paper on Lignin treatment with various (catalytic) pyrolysis methods. Commonly extremely heterogeneous combinations of complex aromatic molecules are found where good yields of highly homogeneous chemical substances are necessary for further conversion or processing into the final lignin derived building blocks which can economically serve as the raw material for future bioplastics like novel polyesters.

The Bionic µfuel Laboratory Reactor used for Lignin testing

The conversion of Lignin into higher value products is the primary challenge for the global cellulose and wood processing industries. Lignin alone makes up a share of 25-30 wt.% of all processed dry wood for cellulose and hemicellulose pulp extraction which is later used for paper, fiber and bioethanol production.

A lot more about the composition and properties of wood can be found at the excellent Pulp & Paper Resource & Information Site.

Despite billions of R&D money spent to date convincing pathways for lignin upgrading have yet to be identified. Scientific work usually labels the pyrolysis of lignin as highly promising for the building blocks of a future biochemical industry, but no true break throughs for commercial application are reported. Thus, enormous quantities of high quality lignin, estimated at more than 50M tons/year are still seen as a waste product and used primarily as a solid fuel for conventional industrial boilers.

A Frost & Sullivan study focusing on the commercial potential of lignin predicts it will become the most important natural aromatic raw material for future biochemicals with a combined market potential of more than USD 130 Billion at current market conditions.

Being the only natural and renewable source of aromatic compounds, lignin is one of the three major components of plant cell walls which together make up 90% of the cells biomass. Possible sources are wood, wheat and rice straw and grasses.

Currently Bionic is embarking on an extensive test program with major industry players to transform the promising lab results into a successful industrial application using the Bionic µfuel range of microwave conversion reactors.