Lignin Valorization Through Integrated Biological Funneling and Chemical Catalysis

Jeffrey G. Linger, Derek R. Vardon, Michael T. Guarnieri, Eric M. Karp, Glendon B. Hunsinger, Mary Ann Franden, Christopher W. Johnson, Gina Chupka, Timothy J. Strathmann, Philip T. Pienkos, Gregg T. Beckham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

611 Scopus Citations


Lignin is an energy-dense, heterogeneous polymer comprised of phenylpropanoid monomers used by plants for structure, water transport, and defense, and it is the second most abundant biopolymer on Earth after cellulose. In production of fuels and chemicals from biomass, lignin is typically underused as a feedstock and burned for process heat because its inherent heterogeneity and recalcitrance make it difficult to selectively valorize. In nature, however, some organisms have evolved metabolic pathways that enable the utilization of lignin-derived aromatic molecules as carbon sources. Aromatic catabolism typically occurs via upper pathways that act as a "biological funnel" to convert heterogeneous substrates to central intermediates, such as protocatechuate or catechol. These intermediates undergo ring cleavage and are further converted via the β-ketoadipate pathway to central carbon metabolism. Here, we use a natural aromatic-catabolizing organism, Pseudomonas putida KT2440, to demonstrate that these aromatic metabolic pathways can be used to convert both aromatic model compounds and heterogeneous, lignin-enriched streams derived from pilot-scale biomass pretreatment into medium chain-length polyhydroxyalkanoates (mcl-PHAs). mcl-PHAs were then isolated from the cells and demonstrated to be similar in physicochemical properties to conventional carbohydratederived mcl-PHAs, which have applications as bioplastics. In a further demonstration of their utility, mcl-PHAs were catalytically converted to both chemical precursors and fuel-range hydrocarbons. Overall, this work demonstrates that the use of aromatic catabolic pathways enables an approach to valorize lignin by overcoming its inherent heterogeneity to produce fuels, chemicals, and materials.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)12013-12018
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - 19 Aug 2014

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-62795


  • Aromatic degradation
  • Biofuels
  • Biorefinery
  • Lignocellulose


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