Lignin-First Biorefinery Development

Research output: NRELPresentation


Cost-effective biomass fractionation is an enabling, grand challenge for biorefining, especially when both carbohydrates and lignin are targeted for valorization. The advent of Reductive Catalytic Fractionation (RCF) - an active stabilization approach that solubilizes lignin from biomass and catalytically depolymerizes it into a narrow slate of monomers and oligomers - represents a potential step forward for this important goal. In the Lignin-First Biorefinery Development project, we are employing techno-economic analysis (TEA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) to guide bench-scale R&D efforts towards cost-effective RCF-based biorefining. This project is critical to lignin valorization efforts and could enable the use of woody feedstocks in a traditional biochemical conversion context. To date, we have conducted the first rigorous TEA and LCA study of the RCF process, developed a flow-through system to separate biomass and the chemical catalyst in RCF chemistry, developed models for solvolysis chemistry and transport phenomena for poplar, and co-led an international, authoritative perspective on guidelines for the research community on how to best practice lignin-first biorefining. The primary challenges for the lignin-first RCF process going forward are catalyst stability, the need to utilize, recover, and recycle high boiling point solvents to lower RCF reactor pressure, and the challenge of operating RCF continuously - all of which are being directly tackled by this project.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages25
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NamePresented at the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) 2021 Project Peer Review, 8-12, 15-16, and 22-26 March 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-2A00-79485


  • biomass
  • biorefinery
  • feedstocks
  • fractionation
  • lignin


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