The vision of the LIBIBAROMAT project is to gather knowledge in Flanders regarding biomass-based aromatic components. The goal is to do this by developing sustainable lignin conversion technologies and process lignin into new and high value molecules. This project is closely related to the Carboleum project from which potential lignin side streams can be the source for the LIBIBAROMAT project, resulting in back-to-back projects.
The renewable aromatics will result in more sustainable and cheaper products that find application in polymers, resins, etc. The project will greatly contribute to the overall transition of the large chemical companies towards more sustainable processes and products. It also offers many new opportunities for SMEs operating in niche applications, engineering and construction.
Flanders could take up a big role in the development of bio-aromatics in Europe. LIBIBAROMAT will be a unique combination of green and white biotechnology, supported by process technology and pure chemistry. Knowledge institutions and Flemish universities – together with agriculture, chemical and processing industry – can build a whole new value chain. The port clusters in Ghent and Antwerp are hereby a great advantage.
This project responds to the resource scarcity of fossil raw materials and the need for more sustainable processes and products. The first generation of biomass sources has led to starch, sugar and oil. This first generation is fully developed and is difficult to use for chemical applications because of the food/feed competition and the growing world population. The second-generation, celluloses and hemicelluloses largely derived from biomass waste and side streams, are transformed into sugars that act as substrate for the production of a wide range of chemical building blocks. These celluloses and hemicelluloses reside in a matrix of glue-like lignin, from which they are to be freed.
The recovery of cellulose and hemicellulose from the lignin matrix is a global challenge and is also partly a topic of the Carboleum project. To date, lignin is seen as a waste product and used mainly as a power source or as a natural binder or glue. However, because of its polymeric phenol structure, it is also a potential source of bio-aromatics. The degradation of this macromolecule is not easy. It holds various dimer structures with 7-8 different bonding types.
To date, there are no bio-based aromatics. There are a number of initiatives where efforts are made to produce p-xylene from dimethyl furan or hydroxy benzoic acid from sugar. At the same time, the availability of oil-based aromatics decreases and the price for BTEX molecules increases. Flanders – with its expertise in waste and sidestream collection, recovery and inventory – can play a crucial role in the optimization of agricultural side streams. The availability of wood, wood-waste and agricultural residues in food and feed crops is estimated at 530 mega tons, with a projected increase to 820 mega tons in 2030. With about 30% lignin in the secondary flows, one can conclude that this has huge potential for the bio-based economy and in particular for bio-aromatics.