EU funding to promote the utilization of lignin

International consortium of research institutions and industry receives EU funding for the construction of a lignin conversion facility

24 October 2018

The European Union is providing support to an international consortium for the construction of an electrochemical plant to explore the commercial potential of lignin, a material that can be obtained cost-effectively from plants. Lignin is present in biomasses such as wood and can be transformed into valuable, biologically sustainable compounds. The EU will be putting a total of EUR 10 million at the disposal of the consortium called LIBERATE for this project. The working group led by Professor Siegfried Waldvogel of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) is involved in the joint venture. His share of the EU grant will be about EUR 1 million.

At present, lignin is mainly burned to generate energy. The consortium intends to change this. The aim of the project is to extract basic chemicals from lignin that can be used by the European industry to produce valuable products such as polymers and antioxidants, substances which are currently being manufactured by the petrochemical industry. "Through LIBERATE, Europe is progressing further towards the establishment of a circular economy. Industry will be less reliant on imported oil, and its environmental impact will be decreased by a reduction of CO2 emissions and improved energy efficiency," said Angel Valdivielso, Technical Project Manager of Leitat. Leitat, a commercial Spanish technological center, is heading up the consortium.

"We will be contributing our expertise in the electrochemical degradation of lignin to the project," added Professor Siegfried Waldvogel. Electrosynthesis uses electric current as a reagent; the technique is considered to be particularly environmentally friendly and resource-efficient.

The EU funding is being granted to LIBERATE through the Horizon 2020 program. Other partners in the project are various research centers and universities, including the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Netherlands Organization for applied scientific research (TNO), the Norwegian research organization SINTEF, and the University of Alicante as well as major companies and small and medium-sized enterprises.