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Advances in Wood Biomass-derived Chemicals

Pascal Xanthopoulos – Apr 2, 2018

Development in Wood Biomass-derived Chemicals The main chemical components of wood are cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin and extractives. Paper manufacturers, wood bio-refineries and extraction companies already isolate such wood constituents for the manufacture of a broad range of products. These products are successfully marketed in many applications today, such as:

 − Paper and paperboard
 − Cosmetics
 − Food supplements
 − Pharmaceuticals
 − Specialty chemicals
 − Detergence
 − Aroma
 − Construction materials
 − And more

However, wood chemicals continue to offer opportunities for new product developments. These products can meet the requirements of various industrial sectors in search for new effect and bio-based chemicals alternative to oil-based products. R&D initiatives are currently very dynamic in this area.


R&D Projects for the Valorization of Wood Cellulose


Nanocellulose


Research initiatives focus on the use of nanocellulose as a strength enhancing additive for renewable and biodegradable matrix polymers such as PLA. Research also concentrates on the development of porous nanocellulosic materials for insulation & packaging.

New coatings are also being developed with outstanding barrier properties in food packaging and printing paper applications. New developments concentrate on the use of nanocellulose as a rheological modifier in cosmetics (thickener), pharma (tablet binder) and paint applications.

Levoglucosenone (LGO)


Levoglucosenone (LGO) is a biology derived chemical which can be produced from waste cellulose. Current developments focus on LGO conversion to new polar aprotic bio-solvents. These new solvents are alternatives to NMP, DMF and DMAc which are under significant regulatory pressure worldwide due to their toxicity.


R&D Projects for the Valorization of Lignin from Wood


Carbon Fiber


Lignin represents a potential low-cost source of carbon suitable for displacing synthetic polymers, such as: Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) in the production of carbon fiber. Using lignin in the carbon fiber manufacturing process improves:

 − Raw material availability
 − Decreases raw material sensitivity to petroleum cost, and
 − Decreases environmental impacts

The goal of replacing steel panels with lightweight, yet strong, carbon fiber-reinforced plastics is to significantly reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel economy.

Resins and Adhesives


Resins and adhesives offer a large opportunity, especially for formaldehyde-free applications. Formaldehyde is currently considered a carcinogen and its banishment from consumer and packaging goods and building products is highly likely in the near term.

Technical needs and challenges for lignin in this area center on:

 − Effective, practical means for molecular weight and viscosity control
 − Functional group enhancement to improve oxidative and thermal stability, for example:
 − Carbonylation
 −  Carboxylation
 − Amination
 − Epoxidation, and
 − De-etherification
 − Consistent mechanical processing properties
 − Control lignin color, and
 − Precise control of cure kinetics

Product consistency in these application targets will also be a technical challenge.


Benefits of Using Lignin

Polymer Modifiers


Polymer modifiers can be simple, low-cost fillers or may be high-value additives that improve various polymer physical or performance properties. Currently, lignin use concentrates on the former; Current research is concentrating on the latter by creating technologies that improve polymer:

 − Alloying
 − Mutual solubility
 − Cross-linking, and
 − Control of color

Relevant technologies include:

 − Predictable molecular weight control
 − Facile introduction of reactive functionality, and
 − Polyelectrolytic functionality

Monomeric Molecules


Very selective depolymerization, also invoking C-C and C-O bond rupture, could yield a plethora of complex aromatics that are difficult to make via conventional petrochemical routes. These complex aromatics include:

 − Propylphenol
 − Eugenol
 − Syringols
 − Aryl ethers
 − Alkylated methyl aryl ethers

Research is concentrating on developing technology that would allow highly selective bond-scission to capture the monomeric lignin building block structures. However, markets and applications for monomeric lignin building blocks would need to be developed.

This development is therefore longest-term and currently has unknown market pull for large-scale use. Since, most of the chemical industry is used to single, pure-molecule raw materials, using mixtures of products in a chemical raw material feed, as would arise from lignin processing, constitutes a challenge.

BTX Molecules (Benzene, Toluene, Xylene)


Developments concentrate on non-selective depolymerization technologies in the form of C-C and C-O bond rupture. This can lead to the production of aromatics in the form of BTX plus phenol and includes aliphatics in the form of C1 to C3 fractions.

Development of the required non-selective chemistries is part of the long-term opportunity. But, is likely to be achievable sooner than highly selective depolymerizations. In fact, some of the past hydro-liquefaction work with lignin suggests that, with further development, this concept is a good possibility.


 » Continue Reading to explore more ongoing research activities in the development of wood chemistry

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