Report says bio-polymer could become a commercial opportunity within three years

Lignin could come become the primary source of bio-based aromatic compounds for the chemical industry, according to a new report.

The organic polymer is found in the cell walls of plants and algae, where it provides structural support. It is extremely abundant, representing 30% of all the non-fossil organic carbon on Earth. But compared with other plant bio-polymers that might be used as bio-based raw materials, such as cellulose, lignin has been thought of as low-quality and of limited use.

The report - from market research firm Frost & Sullivan - says that, as early as 2015, lignin might generate its first commercial opportunity, as a replacement for phenol in the manufacture of resins, surfactants, adhesives or polyester. For example, as of 2010, the pulp and paper industry alone produced 50 million tonnes of lignin, but only 2 per cent (1 million tonnes) was used for chemical products, typically dispersing or binding agents. The rest was burned as low-value fuel.