Bioplastics are #1 on the list in a new World Economic Forum report, Top 10 Emerging Technologies 2019. The need for biobased alternatives to fossil plastics appears is obvious, with over 400 million tons produced annually, a figure set to triple by 2050, and of which less than 15% is presently recycled. The same report advocates lignin as one of the most promising feedstocks to help reverse this worrying trend.
Nature produces in excess of 20 billion tons of lignin per annum by means of photosynthesis. This unique, but ubiquitous compound is a biodegradable natural UV-blocker, anti-oxidant, anti-microbial agent, resin, hydrophobe, and flame retardant. Such functionalities, when desired in plastics, are now satisfied by using expensive, fossil-based and non-biodegradable performance additives.
Proprietary technology has been developed within the ongoing LIBERATE and Lignin RICHES InSciTe projects to produce a crude lignin oil (CLO) from wood and residual lignin from the pulp and paper and biorefinery sectors, respectively. It has recently been demonstrated by Vertoro and the TU/e in the lab that said oil can be readily converted into a thermoplastic material, whilst retaining aforementioned high-value attributes of lignin.
The objective of the project is quantify and optimize these properties, as well as evaluate the compatibility and added value of this biobased thermoplastic material for use as a performance additive in various commercial polymers, including polyesters, polyolefins and polyamides.