The challenge with lignin has been that there are very few commercial applications where it has been a drop-in solution. As a result, it has been used as fuel. However, lignin, being the second most abundant source of aromatic compounds, provides wonderful opportunities for new bio-based chemistry and materials.

There is a close resemblance to the history of oil: the heat value was the first quality for people to utilize commercially until the chemical applications were discovered and they led to material innovations since the 60s oil-based materials have infiltrated practically all areas of our lives.
However, crude oil does not turn into sneakers, toys, car dashboards, or car tires without extensive refining.

METNIN™ Technology is developed to refine lignin to end-user specific characteristics. Our objective is to enable full valorization of lignin in chemical and material applications. This will make the products we use more sustainable, reduce the use of petroleum and plastics, as well as help fighting climate change by capturing CO2.

The list of applications is virtually endless – just look around you: That piece of black plastic you are looking at right now, the insulation in the wall and around every pipe, the cushion of your seat, the dashboard of your car, ad the tires under it, chemicals holding together that box your last internet purchase arrived in, as well as the plastic lining your single-use coffee cup or fast-food box, detergents in your laundry, water-proofing of your outdoor clothes, resin that holds together your kitchen cabinets or paint on your bike or boat… All of this can be made of wood and still be durable to match and exceed your every expectation. These materials can be biodegradable or – better yet – recyclable, and cheaper than the never-degrading stuff we cumulate in the oceans today.

MetGen found a way to make nature work in the necessary conditions to make this possible.

We have married biology with chemistry in a new way to take the next step in human industrial evolution towards sustainability and using renewable resources.

METNIN™ Technology is based on a very novel enzyme – a nature’s catalyst – that thrives in extreme conditions: it is capable of modifying lignin in high temperatures and pH 11. The latter quality is the key-element: Ability to depolymerize and activate lignin at highly alkaline conditions allows for driving the balance of the related reactions towards smaller molecular weight (mw), very high number of potential binding sites, and stable fractions.

Very importantly the ability to use enzymes in such conditions also have enabled the second proprietary part of METNIN™ technology:

METNIN™ Process utilizes robust and widely available membrane systems to fractionate the enzymatically cleaved and activated lignin to specific mw and change the characteristics of these fractions to match end-user needs. We can tailor enzyme fractions to have different chemical characteristics at least in the regarding the following parameters:

• Size / mw
• Dispersity
• Solubility to water or solvents
• Polarity
• Number of OH-groups
• Glass transition temperature (Tg)
• Grafting inorganic compounds or e.g. fatty acids on the lignin

Being able to address these MetGen has already completed the value-chain from raw material supply to end-users and brands. Close to 100 companies have joined in valorizing lignin and developing products. We believe the biggest hurdle never was the lack of technology – although that wasn’t easy either – but the lack of collaboration between the supply and the market. In fact, the market was always there: the industries using oil-based chemistry have been longing for more environmentally friendly solutions. MetGen’s ability to bring forth technology to tailor the natural renewable resource to specific chemical characteristics needed has blown the interest through sky-high.

This exponentially growing interest has prompted us to start providing samples and supply METNIN™ lignin. You can place your order simply by sending your request to metnin@metgen.com

When you collaborate with us you will get access to amazing technology but we are likely to best any consultancy company with relevant connections in all directions to make sure your commercial ambitions are matched with your choice of:

• Supply of various types of lignin
• Process technology for your biomass
• Enzymes for all your needs
• Potential end-users and brands for the lignin fractions
• Analysis and research partners
• Collaborative project partners and potential joint R&D

See, we really are a friendly enzyme company. Come on and join the band-wagon!

Business model

As a technology provider, the business model for MetGen’s biorefinery technologies is to sell the enzymes directly and/or license the related technologies, including METNIN™ technology for lignin valorizing, and support with process design packages, and the know-how needed to implement our solutions.

The developed licensing opportunities for MetGen’s METNIN™ lignin fractionation technology in the biorefinery sector, including renewable chemicals, provides completely new business opportunities. With the support of this project, MetGen sees an opportunity to deliver innovative technology offering for new or rebuilt plants in Europe and the rest of the world. The company aspires to be the preferred provider of enzymes and enzymatic biorefinery technologies to processes for all lignin/biochemical producers. Our near term goal is to accelerate the commercialization of the proven technologies and widen the bio-based products’ market as fast as possible. MetGen is willing to share the benefits with early adapters helping the bio-based revolution pick up speed.

The market potential for lignin

Together with sugars and proteins, and to a lesser extent oils and fibres, lignin as lignocellulosic biomass derived intermediate, is one of the pillars of the foundation of the European Circular Bioeconomy. The EU-28 Bioeconomy market sectors were worth €2100 billion in turnover and accounted for more than 18 million jobs in 2013. To ensure its position in the increased global competition, involved industrial sectors need to innovate and further diversify, making the sustainable use of lignin as renewable resource extremely relevant.

Biobased chemicals and raw materials are expected to grow significantly and increase their market share. An assessment done by the European Commission has indicated that bio-based products and biofuels represent approximately € 57 billion in annual revenue and involve 300,000 jobs. According to forecasts, the biobased share of all chemical sales will rise to 22% by 2020, with a compounded annual growth rate of close to 20% (EC Europa). To realize the required shift from fossil-based industries to real bioeconomy and biobased industries, there is an urgent demand for biobased chemical, materials, and fuels as sustainable and renewable alternatives.

The total market value for lignin-derived products is at $3.3B, with energy capturing about 89 % of the market (Figure 1). Lignin is currently being used for low and medium-value applications (e.g. binding and dispersing agents), representing a market of $730 million. Other markets include vanillin production ($192M) and cement additives ($176M). The market has both high-value applications, such as carbon fibres and phenols, as well as lower value applications such as binders and activated carbon. The lowest value use of lignin is its use as solid fuel as the energy content of the lignin is in the range of 22 MJ/kg. Today, the commercial sales of lignin are limited but growing. Even though the pulp & paper industry produces about 50 million tons of lignin in a year, as defined by Lux Research, most of this is burned for power; only 1 million ton reaches the chemicals market. Thus, the supply of lignin from other sources is set to grow, as the growing need for lignin for the production of renewable biochemicals from lignocellulosic feedstocks alone is projected to grow up to 2.9 million MT in 2017. This brings huge opportunities for the creation of higher-value chemicals such as polyurethanes, epoxy resins, and lignin-based phenol-formaldehyde resins. Lignin is suitable for the production of a variety of straight chain, cyclic and aromatic chemicals, with market sizes ranging from tens of millions of dollars up to hundred-billion-dollar range. The potential market value of new lignin-based products is estimated to be about $13.9B by 2020-2025, with lignin-based phenols and carbon fibre poised to capture the largest market potential in the future. The market for carbon fibre composites and bioplastics is estimated to be over $20 B by 2020, and the phenol market in 2010 was $100 B.

Current and potential applications of lignin (Gosselink, R. J. A. 2011. Lignin as a renewable aromatic resource for the chemical industry. Mini-Symposium UR Lignin Platform, Wageningen).