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Conceptual Study of Electrochemical based novel process using Lignosulfonates to produce bio-based monomers & polymers

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SElectiveLi (Conceptual Study of Electrochemical based novel process using Lignosulfonates to produce bio-based monomers & polymers)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2020-10-31

Bio-based industries make use of European biomass sources and sustainable European supply chains. As such, they lower dependency on imports and contribute to raw material security. With 90% of Europe’s chemical industry feedstocks for non-energy using coming from fossil fuel resources, access to alternatives is an important strategic issue.
Bio-based industries are important players in building the European circular economy, pioneering processes to produce added-value products from feedstocks. By replacing fossil-based products with bio-based products which tend to have a smaller footprint, bio-based industries can make a critical contribution to Europe’s climate goals.
To unlock their full potential, Europe’s bio-based industries will need to make sustainable, resource-efficient and largely waste-free use of Europe’s renewable materials to play an important role in spurring sustainable growth and boosting Europe’s competitiveness.
SElectiveLi provides proof of concept on the laboratory scale to demonstrate the potential for converting low cost lignosulfonate feedstocks as by-product from paper and pulp industry into high value biosustainable chemicals through the following:

1) Electrochemical synthesis of important bulk chemicals from bio-based feedstock.
2) Development of downstream separation and purification processes to extract the target products.
3) Modelling the process to ensure commercial viability and benefitting from surplus energy and accommodating energy fluctuations.
4) Conducting a full life cycle analysis of all processes to establish that a future biorefinery process can reduce environmental footprint of a value chain.
The SElectiveLi Project started in May 2019 with a duration if 36 months. At the point of this report, half-time of 18 months have been reached.
In WP1 ‘Lab-scale screening and optimization of electrolysis conditions’, feedstock materials were successfully analyzed, reaction conditions evaluated and finally, electrochemical depolymerization proofed to be as successful as envisaged. JGU elaborated an electrolysis protocol that allows to selectively generate vanillin and low molecular weight aldehydes. The keys are electrolyte composition and the anode material. In WP2, ‘Downstream separation processes’, separation techniques delivered valuable insights on the nature of the LS feedstock. An electrodialysis coupled with forward osmosis was designed, the distribution of partly purified LS according to partners needs was organized, and compounds in the relevant feedstocks were analyzed. In WP3 reactor design and upscaling is ongoing. Work primarily related to efficient design of biorefineries has been carried out and particular separation sequences improved the understanding of the process. WP4 confirmed that the SElectiveLi approach is highly beneficial in terms of efficiency. During the evaluated period several scripts and models have been developed to assess the coupling of the SElectiveLi process and renewable energies. Among all of them, the most relevant achievement until now would be the set of tools to download and manage data related to the use of the renewable surplus of national grids from official databases. That way, a flexible methodology and tools are being developed for the assessment and integration of RES in electrochemical processes. They can be extended to a wide range of processes and locations. The same is true for WP5, 'Life Cycle Analysis’ where preliminary life cycle assessment has been established and further data for a fully LCA is recently collected. The development and launch of the web-based data collection platform was performed. Also, development of a project-specific LCA framework to be fed with primary data in the following months was done, this model will be used to evaluate the environmental performance of the new value chain and compare it with existing systems providing the same function. WP6 ‘Validation and conversion of intermediates into polymers’ validated possible products and is involved in ongoing polymerization experiments based on the substrates produced in other WPs. CHIMAR tested magnesium lignosulfonate samples as partial phenol substitutes in the synthesis of Phenol-Formaldehyde (PF) resins suitable for the production of plywood panels, with the aim to develop and prove the viability of bio-based phenol-formaldehyde adhesives. VITO have developed and tested several protocols for designing epoxy resins based on lignosulfonate (LS) fractions considered in SElectiveLi (especially the unfractionated LS obtained from SAPPI). They are now able to synthesize LS-based epoxy materials with good mechanical properties. The developed protocol that are now in place will later be adapted in order to design a wide range of epoxy materials from the depolymerized LS phenolic fractions. VITO are developing synthetic protocols taking into account the specific characteristics of lignosulfonate. These protocols can be extended in order to design a wide range of epoxy formulations and resins with tunable properties WP7 ‘Exploitation, Dissemination and Communication’ accompanies the project as planned with communication, dissemination and exploitation efforts and takes care of the medial visualization of the project´s content. WP8 ‘Management’ manages all described tasks successfully. WP9 ‘Ethics requirements’ is already finalized and closed.
However, the project advances were heavily impacted by the Corona situation. This resulted in time schedule deviations due to the unprecedented situation and several timelines became obsolete. Nevertheless, general effectiveness of the project is not affected as in M16 things are slowly going back to normal. In that sense the impact of the Corona pandemic up to now can be numbered as a delay of 6 month. An amendment to the GA will cover this time and allow the consortium to reach all goals described in annex 1.
Electrolytic Products: The amount of vanillin at relatively mild conditions and the timely separation of both events – electrolysis and depolymerization is innovative.
Downstream separation: Electrodialysis coupled with forward osmosis have never been designed before for that kind of feedstock. Also purification and analysis of this feedstock type is new.
Reactor Design: For the majority of biorefinery processes, separation costs are the single largest CAPEX ad OPEX part. Understanding how to develop new integrated processes is vital for future process development.
Polymerzation of Electrolytic Products: Although several lignin-based epoxy resins have been reported in the literature, most of the studies reported so far are focusing on Kraft lignin and not on lignosulfonates. We are developing synthetic protocols taking into account the specific characteristics of lignosulfonate. These protocols can be extended in order to design a wide range of epoxy formulations and resins with tunable properties.
RES Integration: A flexible methodology and tools are being developed for the assessment and integration of RES in electrochemical processes. They can be extended to a wide range of processes and locations.
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