05-07-2018

ALIGN project launched: developing bio-aromatics from lignin

Recently Biorizon co-initiator VITO and partners have launched the ALIGN project that aims to develop Aromatics from LIGNin. Phenolic resins will be applied for the production of high-pressure-laminates as well as natural vanillin for food and beverages. For the next three years, eight project partners led by coordinator CLIB2021 will work together. The Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) holds out the prospect of funding the German project partners with 1.4 mio. EUR.

New functionalized bio-aromatics from lignin

Lignin, the second most abundant terrestrial polymer and the only large source for biobased aromatics, is currently used in limited amounts. Conventional lignin extraction processes are often optimized towards the fractionation and purification of cellulose for pulp production, with lignin regarded as a by-product, resulting in a poor lignin quality i.e. an undefined structure and a low degree of functionalization. Usually, only its energy content is recovered by combustion. However, converting lignin into high-value products is essential to render biorefineries profitable.

The use of lignin extraction processes, which maintain the structure and functionality of lignin, in combination with innovative chemical and biotechnological conversion routes enables the production of functionalized bio-aromatics. New, hitherto not accessible structures including new functionalities and, thus, new performances, which can be used in a variety of industrial applications, can be detected. To valorize large amounts of lignin the ALIGN project team addresses the platform (bulk) chemical sector.

ALIGN: upscaling three extraction processes for valuable fractions

The ALIGN project focuses on upscaling three extraction processes that lead to both a high-value lignin fraction and a pure cellulose/sugar fraction: The LX process (LXP), a Organosolv process combined with base-catalyzed depolymerization (BCD) and the lignin-first process (LFP). The lignin fractions derived from the three processes differ in their composition in regard to the degree of depolymerization and functionalization.

Starting with this broad range of different lignin derivatives combined with tailor-made downstream processing (DSP) strategies, a wide variety of bio-aromatics with unique properties can be produced. The project aims at applying these bio-aromatics as phenolic resins for the production of high-pressure-laminates as well as natural vanillin for food and beverages.

ALIGN project partners cover the entire value chain

To foster an industrial implementation, the consortium covers stakeholders from the whole value chain starting from lignin extraction (Fraunhofer CBP, LXP Group, KU Leuven) via DSP (VITO) to application (UPM, Phytowelt, Axxence Aromatic) under the coordination of CLIB2021. Apart from the above-mentioned ones, the processes can be adjusted in future projects for a wide variety of applications in the aromatics sector from fine chemicals to bulk products.

Cross-border cooperation

This project is a unique cross-border cooperation between the Flanders region of Belgium and the German state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Together with The Netherlands, these regions are part of the BioInnovation Growth mega-Cluster (BIG-Cluster): a cross-border Smart Specialisation Initiative aiming at making Europe’s industrial mega-cluster a global model in comprehensive bio-based value chains. BIG-Cluster was initiated by the three cluster organisations BE-Basic (The Netherlands), Catalisti (Flanders, Belgium), and ALIGN project coordinator CLIB2021 (NRW, Germany).

More information

If you want to receive more information on the ALIGN project or if you want to elaborate on the opportunities of lignin valorization for your organization, please contact Dr. Kelly Servaes via kelly.servaes@vito.be or +32 (0)4 93 31 87 46.

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