Researchers at North Carolina State University have received a grant aimed at finding an energy efficient and environmentally friendly method for breaking down lignin—a renewable, energy-rich raw material found in plants—into feedstock for the petrochemical industry, which produces everything from fuel to pharmaceuticals.
NC State scientists Dr. Dimitris Argyropoulos, Finland Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Dr. Elon Ison, assistant professor of chemistry and a green chemistry specialist, have received a $500,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant via the Industrial Research Institute (IRI) for their research “Catalytic Oxidation Chemistry Aimed at Upgrading Lignin.”
Lignin is found in woody biomass and the by-products of the pulp and paper and bioethanol industries. Approximately 1.3 billion tons of biomass are available annually in the United States, which could produce up to 130 billion gallons of biofuels, as well as other petrochemical products. However, the fundamental science necessary to convert lignin into chemical feedstocks has not been adequately addressed.
Argyropoulos and Ison aim to develop the science for catalytically transforming lignin by using liquid carbon dioxide, an environmentally-friendly process, thereby creating an economically viable resource for the petrochemical industry.
“It will be a win-win-win situation if we are successful,” Argyropoulos says. “We will be making use of a renewable material, eliminating industrial waste, the end product will be immediately usable to supply our existing industrial infrastructure, and our conversion method is environmentally friendly.”
This grant is part of IRI’s Industry-Defined Fundamental Research program, designed to bring together leaders in industrial science to identify research that will directly affect the success of the American chemical industry, and to partner with universities and companies to explore this research.