A process for the production of low molecular weight phenolic compounds from lignins through the pyrolysis of the lignins in the presence of a strong base. In a preferred embodiment, potassium hydroxide is present in an amount of from about 0.1% to about 5% by weight, the pyrolysis temperature is from about 400.degree. C. to about 600.degree. C. at atmospheric pressure, and the time period for substantial completion of the reaction is from about 1-3 minutes. Examples of low molecular weight phenolic compounds produced include methoxyphenols, non-methoxylated phenols, and mixtures thereof.
The United States Government has rights in this invention under Contract No. DE AC36-83CH10093 between the United States Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a division of the Midwest Research Institute.