Base-Catalyzed Depolymerization of Biorefinery Lignins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus Citations


Lignocellulosic biorefineries will produce a substantial pool of lignin-enriched residues, which are currently slated to be burned for heat and power. Going forward, however, valorization strategies for residual solid lignin will be essential to the economic viability of modern biorefineries. To achieve these strategies, effective lignin depolymerization processes will be required that can convert specific lignin-enriched biorefinery substrates into products of sufficient value and market size. Base-catalyzed depolymerization (BCD) of lignin using sodium hydroxide and other basic media has been shown to be an effective depolymerization approach when using technical and isolated lignins relevant to the pulp and paper industry. To gain insights in the application of BCD to lignin-rich, biofuels-relevant residues, here we apply BCD with sodium hydroxide at two catalyst loadings and temperatures of 270, 300, and 330 °C for 40 min to residual biomass from typical and emerging biochemical conversion processes. We obtained mass balances for each fraction from BCD, and characterized the resulting aqueous and solid residues using gel permeation chromatography, NMR, and GC-MS. When taken together, these results indicate that a significant fraction (45-78%) of the starting lignin-rich material can be depolymerized to low molecular weight, water-soluble species. The yield of the aqueous soluble fraction depends significantly on biomass processing method used prior to BCD. Namely, dilute acid pretreatment results in lower water-soluble yields compared to biomass processing that involves no acid pretreatment. Also, we find that the BCD product selectivity can be tuned with temperature to give higher yields of methoxyphenols at lower temperature, and a higher relative content of benzenediols with a greater extent of alkylation on the aromatic rings at higher temperature. Overall, this study shows that residual, lignin-rich biomass produced from conventional and emerging biochemical conversion processes can be depolymerized with sodium hydroxide to produce significant yields of low molecular weight aromatics that potentially can be upgraded to fuels or chemicals.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1474-1486
Number of pages13
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - 7 Mar 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Chemical Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-65962


  • Biochemical conversion
  • Deacetylation
  • Dilute acid pretreatment
  • Kraft lignin
  • Lignin depolymerization
  • Lignin valorization


Dive into the research topics of 'Base-Catalyzed Depolymerization of Biorefinery Lignins'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this