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High-Performance Plastics from Renewable Sources

Lignin, a complex polyphenol found in lignocellulosic biomass, is the third most abundant natural polymer and accounts for up to 30% by weight of wood.

This valuable by-product of the biorefinery and pulp and paper industries is produced in quantities exceeding 200 million metric tons annually. Significant commercial potential exists for the conversion of lignin to high-value end products (i.e., functional materials), but lignin remains a difficult material to convert into useful products that have adequate plasticity, elasticity, strength, and toughness for industrial and commercial applications. Furthermore, traditional lignin-based thermoset plastics are not recyclable. A successful manufacturing process for novel lignin-based thermoplastics would open a new pathway to biomass utilization and help conserve petrochemicals.

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a high- performance lignin-based thermoplastic that will be useful for industrial plastic resins and commercial materials. The thermoplastic copolymer is an unmodified or cross-linked lignin (containing methylene and/or ethylene linkages between phenyl ring carbon atoms in the lignin structure) copolymerized with non-lignin thermoplastic polymer segments.

Integration of the networked lignin and its thermoplastic derivative has resulted in a product with the advantageous properties of both materials, including moldability, elasticity, ductility, strength, durability, and ruggedness.

The resulting material is also melt-processible. The components in the lignin formulations, molar ratios, and other variables can be fine-tuned to adjust the final thermoplastic material’s characteristics to meet specific needs or purposes.

The team also developed a composite fabrication protocol using lignin-based resin as the matrix.

Materials Science and Technology Division
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Senior Technology Commercialization Manager Technology Commercialization
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Phone: 865.576.9682
Material Sciences
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