Skip to Content
Find More Like This
Return to Search

Lignin conversion to fuels, chemicals and materials

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Contact NREL About This Technology

Technology Marketing Summary

There has been vast research in developing cost effective processes to convert the polysaccharide components of plants, mainly cellulose and hemicellulose, into fuels and chemicals. However, the lignin component of biomass, which is an energy-dense polymer and the second most abundant biopolymer on Earth, is vastly underutilized in the production of biofuels, chemicals, and materials. In typical biofuel production, lignin is burned for process heat due to the difficulties faced when converting lignin into useful chemical products because lignin is inherently heterogeneous and recalcitrant.


NREL researchers have developed a novel and integrated way to overcome lignin heterogeneity to produce biofuels, chemicals, or materials. This is accomplished through the production of solubilized lignin-derived compounds, culturing the lignin-rich liquor with an engineered microorganism to produce Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) or fatty acids, and then isolating the PHAs or fatty acids from the cells. Once the PHAs or fatty acids are isolated from the culture, they can be processed to produce chemicals or fuels. Converting lignin into fuels, chemicals, and materials through this process will potentially enable the adoption of lignin utilization in modern bio-refinery designs.

  • Bio-renewable
  • Lignin utilization
  • Sustainable energy source
Applications and Industries
  • Biofuel Production
  • Value added chemicals
  • Production of materials, like plastics
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated

Contact NREL About This Technology

To: Eric Payne<>