Lignin valorization: improving lignin processing in the biorefinery.

Science 344(6185):1246843 (2014) PMID 24833396

Research and development activities directed toward commercial production of cellulosic ethanol have created the opportunity to dramatically increase the transformation of lignin to value-added products. Here, we highlight recent advances in this lignin valorization effort. Discovery of genetic variants in native populations of bioenergy crops and direct manipulation of biosynthesis pathways have produced lignin feedstocks with favorable properties for recovery and downstream conversion. Advances in analytical chemistry and computational modeling detail the structure of the modified lignin and direct bioengineering strategies for future targeted properties. Refinement of biomass pretreatment technologies has further facilitated lignin recovery, and this coupled with genetic engineering will enable new uses for this biopolymer, including low-cost carbon fibers, engineered plastics and thermoplastic elastomers, polymeric foams, fungible fuels, and commodity chemicals.