Conceptual Design of a Kraft Lignin Biorefinery for the Production of Valuable Chemicals via Oxidative Depolymerization

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Lignin is the most abundant aromatic biopolymer on Earth, and its aromatic structure makes it a promising platform for the production of biobased chemicals and other valuable building blocks. The valorization of lignin into chemicals currently presents a challenge, and its facilitation is key in the development of viable lignocellulosic biorefinery processes. This study presents a conceptual design for a recently demonstrated process for lignin oxidative depolymerization. Modeling, simulation, and analysis were performed based on experimental data to assess the viability of the process. Mass and energy balances and main design data were determined for a 700 t/y kraft lignin biorefinery. The production capacity of aromatic chemicals, including vanillin, vanillic acid, guaiacol, and acetovanillone, was 0.3 kg aromatics/kg net lignin use. A heat-integrated process design is suggested, and the energy demands and the CO2 emissions are evaluated and compared. Assuming an interest rate of 10% and a plant lifetime of 10 years, the return on investment was calculated to be 14%, indicating that such a biorefinery is viable. A sensitivity analysis was carried out to assess the impact of the vanillin selling price and the cost of lignin on the profitability of the process. A quantitative investigation of process sustainability resulted in an E-factor of ∼1.6 for the entire synthetic route, that is, 38% material efficiency. The findings of this study underline the need for further research to develop efficient lignin conversion technologies with attractive yields in order to increase profitability on an industrial scale.


External organisations
  • Texas A and M University
  • King Saud University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Chemical Engineering
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8823–8829
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Publication categoryResearch

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