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Plug-in preconditioning for lignin raw materials

Process can be cost-effectively installed at current biorefineries

6th July 2021

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Texas, USA


Researchers at Texas A&M University College of Agriculture are preparing an economical and environmentally friendly way of producing bioplastics and biofibres from the byproducts of corn stubble, sorghum, grasses and mesquite agricultural production,

“Our new approach involves a “plug-in” preconditioning process – a simple adjustment for biofuel refineries,” said Joshua Yuan, professor and chair of synthetic biology and renewable products at Texas A&M. This allows for optimisation of sustainable, cost-effective lignin – the key component of bioplastics. Our process takes five conventional pretreatment technologies and modifies them to produce biofuel and plastics together at a lower cost.”

The $2.4 million project is funded by the US Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office, building on previous work investigating enhanced extraction methods for lignin.

The PIPOL – plug-in preconditioning processes of lignin – process can be directly added at current biorefineries and is not cost prohibitive, the researchers say. It is designed to integrate dissolving, conditioning and fermenting lignin, turning it into energy and making it easily adaptable to biorefinery designs.

“Innovation is the key to achieving growth and the more widespread use of biodegradable plastics,” Yuan said. “Lignocellulosic biorefinery commercialisation is hindered by limited value-added products from biomass, a lack of lignin utilization for fungible products and overall low-value output with ethanol as primary products. This recent discovery will make significant strides to overcome some of these challenges.

“We are producing over 300 million tons of plastics each year and it’s critical to replace those with biodegradable plastics. This work provides a path to produce bioplastics from common agriculture waste like that from production of corn and other grasses and wood. We think it is very industrially relevant and will help enable the biorefinery and polymer industries to attain greater efficiencies and economic opportunites.”

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