2023 article

Selective Depolymerization of Lignin Towards Isolated Phenolic Acids Under Mild Conditions

Peng, W., Bao, H., Wang, Y., Cote, E., Sagues, W. J., Hagelin-Weaver, H., … Tong, Z. (2023, August 9). CHEMSUSCHEM.

By: W. Peng*, H. Bao, Y. Wang*, E. Cote*, W. Sagues n, H. Hagelin-Weaver*, J. Gao*, D. Xiao*, Z. Tong*

co-author countries: United States of America 🇺🇸
author keywords: lignin valorization; selective oxidation; graphene oxide; phenolic acids; density functional theory
Source: Web Of Science
Added: August 28, 2023

The selective transformation of lignin to value-added biochemicals (e. g., phenolic acids) in high yields is incredibly challenging due to its structural complexity and many possible reaction pathways. Phenolic acids (PA) are key building blocks for various aromatic polymers, but the isolation of PAs from lignin is below 5 wt.% and requires harsh reaction conditions. Herein, we demonstrate an effective route to selectively convert lignin extracted from sweet sorghum and poplar into isolated PA in a high yield (up to 20 wt.% of lignin) using a low-cost graphene oxide-urea hydrogen peroxide (GO-UHP) catalyst under mild conditions (<120 °C). The lignin conversion yield is up to 95 %, and the remaining low molecular weight organic oils are ready for aviation fuel production to complete lignin utilization. Mechanistic studies demonstrate that pre-acetylation allows the selective depolymerization of lignin to aromatic aldehydes with a decent yield by GO through the Cα activation of β-O-4 cleavage. A urea-hydrogen peroxide (UHP) oxidative process is followed to transform aldehydes in the depolymerized product to PAs by avoiding the undesired Dakin side reaction due to the electron-withdrawing effect of the acetyl group. This study opens a new way to selectively cleave lignin side chains to isolated biochemicals under mild conditions.