Available Technology

Converting Monomeric, Oligomeric, and Polymeric Lignin into Ionic Liquids 2015-055

Researchers led by Blake Simmons and Seema Singh at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have demonstrated a direct route to synthesize ionic liquids (ILs) from lignin and their depolymerized products – both monomeric and oligomeric – in a less expensive and complex process than current synthetic routes. Specifically, the JBEI technology is capable of transforming monomeric phenolic lignin depolymerized products or oligomeric and polymeric lignin to tertiary amine salts (or ILs) via Mannich reaction. (Phenols are one of the most abundant functional groups in lignin and its depolymerized products.) This proposed route could be applied to a complex mixture of depolymerized products, oligomeric lignin, or even the polymeric lignin. This technology also provides a more cost effective and less complex route to synthesize ILs from guaiacol, the most abundant lignin-depolymerized product. Lignin is one of the most abundant biopolymers found on the earth. Lignin and hemicellulose together constitute roughly ~50% mass of any plant biomass and are also the main byproducts of the paper and pulp industry and of biorefineries. Development of a simple and economic route to synthesize ionic liquids from the lignin and hemicellulose, and from their depolymerized products, will not only reduce ionic liquid production cost but will also demonstrate a route to synthesize ionic liquid from renewable resources. Prior to this JBEI invention, there had been no economically viable application of lignin byproducts apart from generation of heat.
Benefits: 
Operates with inexpensive solvent and chemicals and uncomplicated reaction conditions - Two-step synthesis with minimal purification required; could be transformed to a one-pot process
Internal Laboratory Ref #: 
2015-055
Patent Status: 
Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.
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