Direct and multistep conversion of lignin to biofuels

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Kosa, Matyas
Ragauskas, Arthur J.
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Lignin is the second most abundant biopolymer on Earth, right after cellulose, with a highly complex chemical structure that hinders its possible utilizations. Applications that utilize lignin in different manners are of great interest, due to its inexpensive nature. Present work is based on the notion of converting lignin into different biofuels that have only a few, however important, advantages over lignin as a direct energy source. The first part of current work (pyrolysis) details the analysis of lignin from a relatively new lignin isolation process called LignoBoost. It is obtained from the pulp and paper industry via CO₂ precipitation of lignin from black liquor (BL). This method is environment friendly, results lignin with minimal oxidation, eliminates the main bottleneck of the Kraft cycle (recovery boiler capacity), and yet leaves enough lignin in the process stream to recover pulping chemicals and generate energy for the pulp mill. Pyrolysis had converted this lignin into bio-oil with high aliphatic content and low oxidation level, all advantageous for application as liquid fuel. The second part of this dissertation proved the theory that lignin degradation and lipid accumulation metabolic pathways can be interconnected. Gram-positive Rhodococcus opacus species, DSM 1069 and PD630 were used to evaluate lignin to lipid bioconversion, starting with ethanol organosolv and Kraft lignin. This conversion is a first step in a multistep process towards biodiesel production, which includes transesterification, after lipids are extracted from the cells. Results clearly indicated that the lignin to lipid bioconversion pathway is viable, by cells gaining up to 4 % of their weight in lipids, while growing solely on lignin as a carbon and energy source.
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