Project summary

FALCON aims to convert the lignin waste stream from lignocellulose-based bioethanol plants to a crude oil, which can be used directly as a low-sulphur marine fuel (value chain 1) or, alternatively, as a renewable feedstock for aromatic fuel additives (value chain 2) and chemical building blocks (value chain 3) such as substituted monomeric phenols. These three new value chains can be readily linked to existing 2G biofuel plants and thus contribute to their viability. In addition, the valorisation of the lignin-rich waste stream will support the creation of ‘zero-waste biorefinery’ concept.

The project has a strong industrial drive as it is built around a consortium that includes mainly industrial/SME partners covering the entire value chain supported by two academic partners (Table 1). Considering end-of-life, the targeted final products close the renewable carbon cycle. Bio-fuel/-additives are converted into CO2 and H2O when being combusted in engines. The same will happen to the bio-chemicals, e.g. when they are incinerated after end-of-life, they are converted into CO2 and H2O, too.

Table 1. List of participants

falcon_listLignin bio-oils are already being used as fuel additive for heavy-duty engines to reduce soot emissions. Therefore, the new technology/process developed in FALCON can be directly integrated in this existing value chain. In this project, the objective is to mature over a period of four years from bench scale (1-10 litres) to pilot scale (ton-scale) of enzymatic low-sulphur heavy fuel oil production from lignin. Preliminary combustion experiments can be conducted at a component level with bench scale volumes, whereas multi-component level tests become possible for pilot scale volumes.

However, FALCON aims to go beyond the initial bulk product as the phenolic nature of the lignin crude oil can also be used as a green chemical intermediate for aromatic bulk chemicals (e.g., monomeric phenols) and resins (e.g., phenol formaldehyde resin). Therefore, this project will generate at least three value chains from the lignin waste stream: shipping fuels, fuel additives and chemical building blocks.

The project also includes method development and optimization of efficient technical separation processes, on the one hand of the low-sulphur heavy fuel oil from the aqueous lignin waste stream and on the other hand of the chemical building blocks resulting from the conversion of low-sulphur heavy fuel oil. In addition, it aims to develop a method for the initial low-sulphur heavy fuel oil preparation that can be directly linked to or integrated in the current 2nd generation biofuel production plants. Directly processing the wet lignin-rich slurry resulting from the conventional biofuel production process, removes the need for drying of this waste stream, reducing processing costs. Currently, lignin bio-oil is obtained by pyrolysis, which is a high-energy demand process. We replace this step with a sustainable down-stream process (enzyme treatment), which we will validate by means of a Life Cycle Assessment. As such, our new value chains fit seamlessly to the recently developed biofuel value chains, ensuring easy implementation of the innovative new FALCON process.

Objectives & Achievements

FALCON has brought together a multidisciplinary consortium of biologists, biochemists, chemists, and chemical, mechanical and process engineers, to jointly work in the FALCON project. To realize the specific goals we have defined six objectives for the project:

  1. Process optimization of lignin production and purification
  2. Production of solvent tolerant laccases that generate oxidized lignin in the presence of mediators, which will break-up of the intermolecular β-O-4 bonds, resulting in a liquid lignin fraction with smaller lignin-fragments (lignin oil).
  3. Development of a separation process that extracts the low-sulphur lignin-derived heavy fuel oil from the aqueous lignin waste stream for further processing, aided by small amounts of organic solvents.
  4. Testing, standardization and implementation of the low-sulphur lignin-derived heavy fuel oil as a shipping fuel, keeping in mind the basic requirements of sulphur concentration (<0.1 wt.%) and kinematic viscosity (<12 mm2/s at 150°C, which is the typical temperature at the fuel injector)
  5. Conversion of the low-sulphur lignin-derived heavy fuel oil to fuel additives and mono-aromatic building blocks for the chemical industry
  6. Bioconversion of the extracted aromatic compounds from objective 4 to value-added products, e.g. by demethoxylation, demethylation or decarboxylation

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Discovery of laccases that are suitable for (partial) depolymerisation of lignin
Characterization and optimization of discoverd laccases
Newly developed enzymes available in pilot scale volumes
Pilot-scale production of lignin-oil
First test of stability and compatibility of lignin crude oil in a representative marine engine fuel injection circuit completed
Chemical building blocks produced

Our progress