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EUCAlyptus LIgnin VAlorisation for Advanced Materials and Carbon Fibres

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - EUCALIVA (EUCAlyptus LIgnin VAlorisation for Advanced Materials and Carbon Fibres)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-07-31

Lignin from pulping process is present all over Europe and represents a big source of underexploited material. There is an estimated 70 million tonnes of lignin available. Until now only about 2% of the lignins available in the pulp and paper industry is commercially used.
The current lack of competitiveness of bio-based technologies against other industrial (far more polluting) sources requires further development and optimisation of innovative processes that are cost- effective and resource-efficient.
The EUCALIVA project created a valorisation chain of the lignin fraction, using Eucalyptus globulus waste as a source. This will position new bio-based materials closer to the market, aiming at progressively substituting those from petrochemical origin (aligning with the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe). Currently these wastes are destined for energy applications within the paper industry, without further valorisation and economic return. This is a low value choice, at the bottom of the biomass pyramid and, instead, EUCALIVA proposes to reach higher levels of value. It is important to valorise this unutilised material (lignin) from a high productive source.
EUCALIVA’s goal was to extract high-purity soluble lignin from the kraft pulping process (black liquors) and to transform the lignin through different lines. At the end of the project, two functional lignins were produced. These types of lignin were used to produce carbon fibres and non-wovens (through spinning), and to be directly used to produce bio-based ink. Electrodes were produced using ink composed of cyclohexanone solvent and high-conductive carbonized lignin as conductive powders, with cellulose acetate used as a binder. The technical aspects of the two production techniques used to manufacture the electrodes, namely Screen printing and Spray coating, were highlighted. Screen printing is suitable for production using commercial polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and PET/Polyurethane (PU) substrates, while Spray coating has achieved satisfactory results when used in conjunction with the lab-made PU film as substrate. Finally, these electrodes were used to developed a fists batch of biosensors for different final applications.
Regarding the non-woven, an activated carbon felt was obtained at lab scale with promising results. The standardization of a first pilot for the activated carbon felt was focused as a benchmark against commercial activated carbons in powder form. For that purpose, 2 potential applications of the activated carbon (AC) felts where spotted. Due to the high production costs forecasted for AC felts as a result of the low yield values obtained, only high-end, technological applications are considered: hydrogen storage and energy storage.
WP1 has been devoted to the conversion of BLs (black liquors) from the Kraft process of Eucalyptus pulp into purified lignin. The BLs were selected and characterized, after which the most suitable technologies for lignin extraction were selected on the base of the characterisation studies, analyses and tests. Then pure lignin was used in suitable blends, prepared in WP2, to be used as fibre precursors for obtaining fibre-based carbon-rich materials (non-wovens mainly). In WP2, the manufacturing of carbon fibres and derived fibre-based materials (fibrous mats and non-wovens) from high-purity lignin has been carried out. Validation and testing of the obtained materials, mainly at application level, and mainly on structured Carbons and related derivatives, carbonized fibers, mats/nonwoven fabrics was also performed.
Morphological, physico-chemical, and benchmarking analyses on the EUCALIVA Lignins and on the obtained carbonized materials, mainly Carbon structured (nano-)powders to be used in conductive inks, (bio-)sensors, and several other functional added-value applications (fuel, photo-catalytic and solar cells, energy harvesters, optoelectronics and LED, supercapacitors, chemical (bio-)sensors, and rechargeable batteries), were carried out. These (nano-)structured Carbons were successfully tested and employed to produce conductive inks, useful for both screen printing and spray-coating production of miniaturized electrodes The screen-electrode was printed both on flexible and stretchable materials. For the stretchable ones, electrical parameters variations were studied when remarkable physical stress is applied to the electrode. The produced electrodes were employed to develop sensors and biosensors for application in different fields.
Regarding the activated carbon production, both carbon fibres and non-wovens were used to perform trials for obtaining activated carbon. However, goods results were got obtained only with non-wovens. Activated carbon felts from non-wovens had promising results. Supercapacitors and hydrogen energy storage are two of the possible end-uses of the activated carbon felts produced in EUCALIVA.
Lastly, the EUCALVIA team has developed an exploitation strategy that is complementary with all the partners’ research and/or business activities. The principal objectives related to the exploitation of results are as follows:
- Identifying relevant IP to be derived from project results in order to protect it.
- Distribution and /or ownership of foreground IP between partners
- Update of the patent analysis of new identified competing patents.
- Establishment of a best practice for the knowledge transfer from the RTOs and uptake by the SMEs (technology transfer).
- Identification and contact with potential STAKEHOLDERS stakeholders interested in the project results: (i) Suppliers (hemp processors, and ingredient manufacturers), (ii) distributors (ingredient suppliers, retailers and other players in the supply chain), and (iii) potential users (consumers, large food companies, etc.)
- Establishment of a marketing strategy and preferred route to market.
The expected impact of the EUCALIVA project is focused on the building-block stage (spinnable lignin blends) since the final products (fibres & smart fabrics) are obtained by more conventional processes.
▪ Safety, quality and purity of the (new) products are in line with EU legislation and proven to meet end-market requirements in order to facilitate future market access and commercialisation.
▪ Reduction of industrial side-streams routed to disposal as waste.
▪ Demonstrated operational and energy costs savings as compared to existing processes and technologies.
Successful introduction of ‘lignin – to – bio-product’ concepts at semi-commercial scale. EUCALIVA provides an environmental answer to this problem, since it strongly contributes to decreasing e the greenhouse effect. EUCALIVA entails a great absorption of CO2, so the environmental benefits associated to this project cover a large variety of aspects (from biomass exploitation to bio-based end products) caused directly by the production of the raw material.
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