Lignin As A Biorefinery Co-Product Market Opportunity

Open Access
Cline, Stephen Patrick
Graduate Program:
Biorenewable Systems
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
March 21, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Paul Michael Smith, Thesis Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Lignin
  • lignin valorization
  • new product development
  • activated carbon
  • Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS)
  • biorefinery
As the world considers moving from fossil fuel dependence toward a bio-economy, the development of biofuels is playing a major role. Unpredictable oil prices and governmental policy in favor of renewable energy has turned a non-existent industry into one that produces billions of gallons of corn ethanol each year. First generation biofuels, are facing barriers such as the blend wall and the food vs. fuel debate. The development of second-generation biofuels addresses many of the concerns caused by first generation biofuels by utilizing non-food based, lignocellulosic feedstock to generate, among other products, liquid biofuels and isolated lignin waste. Lignin, produced in large quantities is typically burned as an inexpensive fuel source. Unlocking lignin’s potential as a value-added product in the second-generation biorefinery would proliferate plant economics and advance commercialization. A thorough literature review was followed by expert elucidation interviews, providing the rationale for an examination of activated carbon as a potential value-added opportunity for biorefinery lignin. The overall goal of this research was to better understand the market potential of lignin-based activated carbon for the application of mercury sequestration from U.S. coal-fired power plant flue gas. This research focused on surveying coal-fired power plants that operated or planned to operate activated carbon injection systems for the sequestration of mercury. This study provided insight into how likely a power plant would be to purchase a lignin-based activated carbon, their likeliness of switching vendors, and the attributes that determine their purchases of an activated carbon product. For industry, the results of this research have potential to change how second-generation biorefineries utilize their lignin waste streams to increase revenue and plant economics. For activated carbon suppliers, this research identifies which attributes are most important to the activated carbon client for the aforementioned application and opens doors to a new abundant feedstock.