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Renewable Chemicals Produced from Lignin


Produces high value commodity and specialty chemicals derived from lignin, including



Researchers at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed a technology using an ionic liquid-based chemical process to convert polymeric lignin into low molecular weight or monomeric aromatic feedstocks. These feedstocks can be converted to high value chemicals and products, now derived from petroleum industry byproducts, using existing technologies from petroleum-based refineries. This JBEI technology enables the production of high value chemicals from renewable sources rather than from petroleum.

The technology overcomes the recalcitrant nature of lignocellulosic biomass without resorting to a thermo-chemical process that requires combinations of high temperatures and pressures, dilute acids or alkalis, and use of specialized equipment and high energy input. The generated chemicals, including phenols, guaiacols, syringols, eugenols, catechols, their oxidized products, including vanillin, vanillic acid, syringaldehyde, and their easily-derived hydrocarbons, including benzene, toluene, xylene, styrene, biphenyls and cyclohexane, already have relatively high market value as commodity and specialty chemicals, green building materials, nylons, and resins.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Ongoing testing and development. To date, researchers have generated monomeric aromatic compounds from switchgrass, pine, eucalyptus, kraft lignin and low sulfonate alkali lignin pretreated with ionic liquid using water as the anti-solvent and an apolar solvent to extract aromatics.

Varanasi, P., Singh, P., Auer, M., Adams, P., Simmons, B.A., Singh, S. “Survey of Renewable Chemicals Produced from Lignocellulosic Biomass During Ionic Liquid Pretreatment,” Biotechnology for Biofuels, 2013, 6:14.

STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.


The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI, is a scientific partnership led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and including the Sandia National Laboratories, the University of California campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. JBEI’s primary scientific mission is to advance the development of the next generation of biofuels.


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