Breakthrough Research Tapping into Lignin’s Massive Potential Set to Change its Market Landscape

Lignin, the most abundant renewable carbon source after cellulose, on earth, is rapidly finding a wide variety of uses as a binder, dispersant, and additive. Known as the substance that gives plants their structure by binding cells, fibers, and vessels, it is derived from trees. It is also the main byproduct of the paper industry, separated from wood by a chemical pulping process.

Why is Lignin Considered an Untapped Resource that can Change the Face of Biofuel Market?

The chemical composition of lignins is extremely complicated. They are also bound tightly together, forming a wall that protects plants from microbial attack and environmental stress. Lignin, obtained during the papermaking and biorefining processes, is often contaminated with significant alteration to its chemical and physical makeup. So, mostly it is burned to produce fuel and electricity.

However, researchers are trying their best to tap into the rich resource. In September 2016, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, for example, believe they have figured out how to dismantle the tightly bound components of lignin to extract valuable chemicals from them, with the help of an unusual soil bacteria. Once achieved, this could change the face of biofuel production. High-value chemicals such as muconic acid and adipic acid, which form the basis for polyurethane, nylon, and other bioplastics, can be derived from the platform chemicals. This would drive up demand for the material dramatically.

What are the Various Uses of Lignin?

Lignins can be divided into two categories – those that have sulfur and those that are sulfur-free. It is the former variety that has been commercialized and is known as lignosulfonates and kraft lignin. Lignosulfonates’ biggest use is in making concrete on account of their high absorption capacity and zeta potential. Kraft lignin is used for dye stuff in the paints and coatings and textile industries. Additionally, kraft lignin is also used in insecticides.

What is the Scope of Lignin Market’s Growth?

The market for lignin is highly concentrated. There are top five players who dominated the market in 2014 by accounting for 85% of it. Some of the big names in the field are MeadWestvaco Corporation, Borregaard LignoTech, Tembec, Inc., Domtar Corporation, Nippon Paper Industries Co., Ltd., etc. Opportunity-wise the market can be divided into two categories. One on the basis of products and the other on the basis of geography. 

Lignosulfonates enjoyed a robust demand in 2014 due to the building and construction boom. Kraft lignin had an 8% global market share in 2014 on account of its various uses, and its market is poised to grow further in the coming years. The global lignin market in 2014 saw 10% of its share on account of animal feed. The share of the segment is slated to increase to 15% by 2023.

Geographically, developing regions are predicted to boost the demand for lignin, with Asia Pacific leading the way as the fastest growing market during the forecast period from 2015 to 2023. Latin America, which trailed Asia Pacific in 2014, is set to grow at a CAGR of 3.5% during the forecast period. North America, in 2014, accounted for a lion’s share of the market at 30%, followed by Europe. However, Europe is expected to lose its market share during the forecast period, due to rising labor costs in the region as compared to other regions. The Middle East and Africa are also predicted to be demand drivers during the forecast period.


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