EU Lignin

The European Commission Papers: The Lignin Briefing

This should help you understand what the European Commission knows about lignin and how it perceives it.

The European Commission paid consultants and experts to map the most promising biomass components currently under development. Here’s the summary.

One of the most promising component was lignin. The main reasons why lignin is considered to be of high potential:

  • natural abundance;
  • global availability;
  • chemical versatility; and
  • source of aromatic building blocks.

Aromatics are usually fossil-based and considered as extremely harmful chemicals. Lignin-based aromatics are therefore very attractive.

There are 6 very promising lignin-based products:

  • high purity lignin
  • lignin biocomposites reinforced with natural fibres
  • lignin-based carbon nanofibres
  • lignin bio-oil
  • bio-based phenol and alkylphenols
  • lignin-based phenolic resins

High Purity Lignin / High-Grade Lignin

Lignin is a basic material used as raw chemical and also considered as a platform chemical from which other advanced materials and products can be developed.

Volume, Value and Sales Price

  • high purity lignin market value is estimated at €4 million (we’re not sure if this is correct and for what year it is!).
  • production volumes 2013 = 11 kilotonnes;  2014 = 11.6 million tonnes. Big growth between 2013 and 2014.
  • lignin price: between 650€/tonne to 1000€/tonne
  • high-purity lignin-based products can reach 1.300 $ – 6.500 $/tonne
  • cost of extracting lignin from plants is very high.

Main Applications

  • carbon-based materials
  • macromolecular applications
  • fine and specialty chemicals
  • bulk chemicals (agromatics & acids)
  • raw materials (vanillin, benzene toluene and xylene aromatics, food and beverage additives)
  • advanced materials (carbon fibres for reinforced composites, adhesive binders, resins and coatings, PU-based foams, films, paints and plastics)
  • higher value fuel additives

Environment & Health Benefits

Lignin-based products outperform their synthetic alternatives in terms of environmental impact and sustainability. They can be easily recycled, reuse and composted. The manufacturing of lignin-based products has lower emission, energy consumption and toxicity.

Main Actors & Potential Customers

  • EUROPE (EU)

Vito (Belgium), Staatsbosbeheer (NL), AkzoNobel (NL), Avantium (NL), Chemport Europe (NL), TNO (NL), Metsa Group (Finland), Lenzing AG (Austria), Covestro (Germany)

  • EUROPE (non-EU)

Borregaard (Norway), Green Value (Switzerland)

  • AMERICA

Domtar Corporation (Canada), MeadWestvaco (US), Rayonier Advanced Materials (US), Liquid Lignin Company (US), Fibria (Brazil)

ASIA

  • Aditya Birla Group (Japan & India), Asian Lignin Manufacturing (India), Changzhou Shanfeng Chemical Industry Company (China)

Lignin Biocomposites Reinforced with Natural Fibres

Mixing lignin with natural fibres and natural additives produces a bio-composite that can be processed at high temperature and moulded, platted or slabbed with conventional plastic processing machines. Mixing lignin with (bio)plastics reinforced with vegetal fibres improves the physical-mechanical properties and processability of the fibre-reinforced material.

Volume, Value and Sales Price

  • global market of lignin bio-composites 1 – 1.1 million tonnes per year
  • price of lignin feedstock is 10 cents / Lb or 4,5 cents /kg

Main Applications

  • processable as thermoplastic in standard injection moulding machines = susbstitute for fossil based thermoplastics
  • construction industry
  • automotive sector (technical parts)
  • furniture,  interior, garden
  • sport and leisure
  • packaging
  • clothing
  • toys

Environment & Health Benefits

  • low toxic fumes emissions when heated
  • reduces the use of non-renewable resources in the construction industry
  • no skin irritation for workers in construction industry

Main Actors & Potential Customers

  • Tecnaro (Germany), Tipco Industries (India)

Lignin-Based Carbon Nanofibres

Lignin enables the production of low-cost carbon fibres and high-performance carbon fibre reinforced polymers (CRFP). There’s no current commercial production of lignin carbon fibres yet. Lignin-based carbon nanofibres would be a cheaper substitute and would make carbon fibre more accessible.

Volume, Value and Sales Prices

  • global production of carbon fibres in 2017 was 80.000 tonnes
  • market estimation of carbon fibres in 2015 was 2.5 billion $
  • lignin sales price in 2013 was 660 $/tonne (dry solid).
  • in comparison, carbon fibre is around 20-30$/kg

Main Applications

  • sport equipments
  • aircraft
  • satellites
  • formula 1 cars
  • pressure vessels
  • specialized tools
  • wind turbine components
  • reinforcement of concrete in earthquake sensitive areas.

Environmental & Health Benefits

  • carbon-fibre composites can reduce the weight of a car  by up to 50%
  • regular carbon fibre (oil-based) is not recyclable.
  • C02 emissions: 24 kg/kg of lignin; 31 kg/kg of PAN carbon fibres

Main Actors & Potential Customers

  • EUROPE – Stokes Laboratories (Ireland) and RISE Bioeconomy (Sweden)
  • AMERICA – Oak Ridge National Laboratory (US)
  • OCEANIA – Scion and Revolution Fibres (New Zealand)

Lignin Bio-Oil

Lignin bio-oil is the fluid product of the chemo-thermal conversion of biomass that contains lignin. It constitutes a complex mix of organic compounds like acids, ketones, phenols, lignin-derived oligomers and solid particles.

Main Applications

  • substitute for fossil fuels and chemical feedstock
    • fuel applications,
    • chemical for food production (flavouring agents)
  • co-products: biochar and gas (energy generation)

Volume, Value and Sales Prices

Lignin bio-oil cannot be considered as cost competitive to its petroleum equivalents because of lack of economy of scale and higher feedstock prices.

Environmental & Health Benefits

Lignin bio-oil does better than its petroleum counterparts in terms of global warming potential. Lignin bio-oil has no significant health, environmental or safety risks.

Main Actors & Potential Customers

  • EUROPE

Royal Dutch Shell (UK & NL), BTG-BTL (NL), Empyro (NL), Fortum Power and Heat (Finland), Valmet Corporation (Finland), UPM (Finland), VTT (Finland), Total (France)

  • AMERICA

Ensyn (Canada), ABRI-Tech (Canada) Canmet Energy (Brazil),  Avello Bioenergy (US), Battelle Memorial Institute (US), UOP Honeywell (US)

Bio-based Phenol and Alkylphenols

Lignin is a high molecular-weight polymer composed of alkylphenols units. It’s a rich source of phenols. Lignin is a residue in the production of bio-ethanol and hemicellulose.

Volume, Value and Sales Price

  • Production value 8 million tonnes per year
  • Market value $1.500/tonne
  • Lignin costs $330/tonne
  • Lignin-based phenols with 40% yield = $880/tonne
  • Price of phenol is volatile due to fluctuations in oil prices, so between $1.000-2.000/mt

Main Applications

  • Solvent and fuel additives
  • bio-pesticide and insecticide
  • dietary and drug supplement
  • in the production of plastics and other materials
  • aromatic functional building blocks
  • production of phenol-formaldehyde resins
  • polyurethane foams
  • cosmetic sunscreen formulas

Environmental & Health Benefits

Environmental impact depend on the energy needed to crack the lignin and the catalysts and solvents needed in the production process.

Bio-derived methoxylated alkylphenols are promising alternatives to traditional alkylphenols because their toxicity is much lower. Methoxylated alkylphenols from lignin can posses unsaturated alkyl chain (eugenol) and this could impact the biodegradability of the alkylphenol. Unsaturated compounds often degrade faster than their saturated counterparts.

Main Actors and Potential Customers

  • EUROPE – Stora Enso (Finland), Chemelot InScite (Nl), DSM Chemtech Center (Nl)
  • AMERICA – FPInnovations (Canada)
  • OCEANIA – Crown Research Institute (New Zealand)

Lignin-based Phenolic Resins

Lignin-based phenolic resins, also called phenol-formaldehyde resins, are a group of very versatile polymers with excellent physical characteristics (low flammability, high temperature resistance, low humidity absorption). These resins are divided into 2 groups: Novolacs and resoles.

Main Application

  • composites adhesives
  • insulation
  • lamination
  • wood bonding
  • molded parts
  • plywood adhesives

Volume, Value and Sales Prices

  • phenolic resins global production is 6million tonnes per year. UPM has announced 100% lignin-based phenolic resin production on a commercial scale (Wisa BioBond)
  • market price of phenolic resins is 1.100 – 2.300 $/tonne
  • lignin-based phenolic resins prices are not publicly available. Technically speaking, they could become cheaper than phenolic resins.

Main Actors & Potential Customers

UPM-biofore (Finland), StoraEnso (Finland), VTT (Finland), Prefere Resins (Germany), Avalon Industries (Switzerland), WestFraser (Canada), Hexion (USA)

Closing Remarks

  • It’s often said that you can make anything with lignin, except money. Well there may be some changes in the air.
  • The chances are high that one day lignin will disrupt the chemical and plastics industry.
  • It’s not a coincidence if trees and plant produce lignin. We just need to invest more in R&D to crack the code.

 

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