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Turn lignin into materials and chemicals for high-end applications

Produce on a large scale, in a first-of-its-kind operational setting, components from by-product lignin for use in established or newly emerging high-value applications [1].

The scope of this topic is to make use of lignin-containing by-products from existing operations that today are ‘wasted’ or burnt, provided they will be sustainable feedstock for large- or medium-scale operations. This topic’s objective is to resolve an existing situation of under-use of the by-product lignin from lignocellulosic biorefineries, not to use crops that are cultivated specifically for lignin.

The scope of this topic includes both greenfield biorefineries and refurbished industrial facilities.

Proposals must include the related feedstock supplying sector(s) as strategic partner(s) in the value chain. This means that these sectors must participate in the design of the value chain and benefit from the value chain. These benefits can include: (i) greater levels of employment; (ii) more high-skilled employment; (iii) better-paid employment; (iv) strengthening of the local or regional economy; and (v) increasing local biodiversity. In order to increase the participation of the primary sector actors, it is recommended to promote the participation of representative organisations (such as agricultural cooperatives for farmers) as members of the consortium, as well as to foster the role of advisors or innovation brokers to support (‘speak on behalf of’) the primary sector actors during the project implementation.

An essential requirement for project proposals under this topic is high efficiency in: (i) feedstock preparation; (ii) processing steps; (iii) formulation of materials into applicable high-end products; and (iv) formulation of building blocks into applicable high-end products. Proposals might therefore consider including digital technologies and tools to achieve high efficiency in all stages of the value chain.

The scope of this topic includes any processing technology with a proven track record of converting lignin into desired materials and components at lower TRLs.

Proposals must clearly specify the targeted chemical building blocks or materials from the ligninconversion steps. Proposals must also clearly specify the identified or newly emerging market application for the building blocks or materials.

The scope of this topic includes any application that demonstrates a high-end market application of the obtained lignin-based products. These applications may range from creating components in the construction industry to applications in sectors such as textiles, cars, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and packaging. Successful proposals will include market actors as strategic partner(s) in the value chain. These partners can assist in directing the value chain towards identified or newly emerging market demands.

Proposals must include a sustainable end-of-life phase. This means that the targeted end-product must be either fully recyclable, degradable, or compostable under specified conditions [2].

Proposals may include any processing technology that has been demonstrated in an optimised value chain at TRL 6-7 and should encompass all processing stages leading to intermediate and end products.

Proposals must address all the requirements for flagship actions shown in Table 3 of the Introduction.

The technology readiness level (TRL) at the end of the project must be 8.Proposals should clearly state the starting and end TRLs of the key technology or technologies targeted in the project.

INDICATIVE FUNDING:

It is considered that proposals requesting a maximum contribution of EUR 16 million would be able to address this specific challenge appropriately. However, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

[1] In contrast to the flagship topic BBI VC3.F1 – 2014, this topic’s scope is to commercialise specifically the by-product lignin from existing lignocellulosic biorefineries that today finds no or low-value use. The scope of this topic also differs from that of the RIA topic BBI2020.SO2.R2 which is about developing a new processing scheme to valorise (the major part of) all fractions of lignocellulose, whereas F1 focuses on lignin alone. Moreover, the topic is different from the flagship topic BBI 2017.F1 whose scope was indeed to valorise all fractions of the feedstock (not necessarily lignocellulosic biomass) targeting a ‘zero waste’ biorefinery.

[2] See remarks on biodegradability in the Introduction of the 2020 Annual Work Plan.

Lignin occurs in wood and non-wood cellulosic biomass. It is available in very large quantities as a byproduct of lignocellulosic biorefineries and chemical pulping operations. Although it is a valuable biopolymer, it is currently mainly burnt as low-value fuel.

Several projects are running or have been completed at demonstration levels (TRL 6-7) to turn the byproduct lignin from industrial operations into added-value products, often replacing fossil-based counterparts in the process. Industry now sees enough opportunities to scale up these value chains to commercial levels. Large-scale transformation of lignin into high-end applications will significantly improve the economics of lignocellulose biorefineries. And replacing fossil-based products with ligninbased high-end products will make a significant contribution towards a climate-neutral Europe by 2050.

Lignin can be used ‘as is’ in various added-value applications, among others in the construction industry. In the latter case, lignin is able to sequester biogenic carbon for decades, and can substantially contribute to climate change mitigation. Lignin can also be treated to increase its usability in chemical and biotechnological processing. This processing allows it to be used in fibre applications, platform chemicals, and building blocks. The high polymeric character of lignin means it contains many functionalised molecules. Smart processing steps can therefore retain the desired polymerisation and functionality. Functionalised building blocks can lead to high-end applications in a variety of market sectors.

The specific challenge is to sustainably commercialise the transformation of lignin into chemicals and materials for high added-value applications.

EXPECTED IMPACTS LINKED TO BBI JU KPIS:

  • contribute to KPI 1 — create at least one new cross-sector interconnection in the bio-based economy;
  • contribute to KPI 2 — create at least two new bio-based value chains;
  • contribute to KPI 5 — demonstrate at least two new bio-based materials;
  • contribute to KPI 6 — demonstrate at least two new consumer products based on lignin-derived bio-based chemicals and materials that meet market requirements;
  • contribute to KPI 7 — number of flagship grant agreements signed between the BBI JU and project consortia.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS:

  • reduce greenhouse gas (including CO2) emissions (expressed in CO2 equivalents) by replacing fossilbased chemicals or materials;
  • reduce lignin-rich streams going to lower-value uses by at least 30% compared with the state of the art;
  • contribute to the EU’s 2050 long-term strategy for a climate-neutral Europe by replacing fossilbased material with bio-based, renewable material.

ECONOMIC IMPACTS:

  • increase the value of lignin by at least 50% compared with the current value (compensated for process costs);
  • demonstrate an effective and efficient business model for lignin transformation that could be applied elsewhere in Europe.

SOCIAL IMPACTS:

  • create new job opportunities in the bio-based sector in rural, coastal and/or urban areas;
  • increase the competitiveness of European biomass producers and the bio-based industry by: (i) making use of residual streams; (ii) business growth; and (iii) investment, all while ensuring environmental sustainability and an increase in local biodiversity.

TYPE OF ACTION: Innovation action – flagship action.