A Sandia National Laboratories-led team has demonstrated faster, more efficient ways to turn discarded plant matter into chemicals worth billions. The team’s findings could help transform the economics of making fuels and other products from domestically grown renewable sources. Lignin, the tough material left over from biofuel production, contains compounds that can be converted into products like nylon, plastics and drugs. It is one of the main components of plant cell walls, and gives plants structural integrity as well as protection from microbial attacks. Products made from converted lignin could subsidize biofuel production, making the cost of biofuels more competitive with petroleum. Unfortunately, lignin’s toughness also makes it difficult to extract its valuable compounds. Scientists have wrestled for decades with deconstructing it. As a result, lignin often sits unused in giant piles. The Sandia team have demonstrated two new routes to lignin conversion that combine the advantages of earlier methods while minimizing their drawbacks. The team’s recent findings are described in the journal Scientific Reports.
From DOE/Sandia Laboratories Photo John Vlahakis