Raleigh, North Carolina – Wood waste could one day become ethanol, thanks to a US$500,000 grant to researchers at North Carolina State University. The researchers are working to find an energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly method for breaking down lignin, a renewable and energy-rich raw material found in plants, into feedstock for the petrochemical industry.

Lignin is found in woody biomass and the byproducts of the pulp and paper and bioethanol industries. Approximately 1.3 billion tons of biomass are available annually in the U.S., 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.

Dr. Dimitir Argyropoulos, Finland Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Dr. Elon Ison, assistant professor of chemistry and a green chemistry specialist, received the grant via the Industrial Research Institute. They aim to develop the science for catalytically transforming lignin by using liquid carbon dioxide, an environmentally-friendly process.

“It will be a win-win-win situation if we are successful,” Argyropoulos said. “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.”

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