Event Title

Lignin to Adipic Acid

Department

Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

Karen Wawrousek

Description

Lignin is a heterogeneous mixture of aromatic polymers found in plant cell walls. Cellulosic ethanol plants, whose feedstocks are made up of plant materials such as corn stover, produce lignin as a coproduct along with ethanol. Currently, that lignin is burned as a low energy fuel, but since the production of ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks is expected to increase significantly in the next few years, alternative uses for lignin are being researched. The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has demonstrated that lignin can be converted to adipic acid, a precursor to nylon-6,6, which has many uses. Using a genetically engineered strain of P. putida to funnel lignin to muconic acid and then hydrogenation to produce adipic acid, NREL’s production of adipic acid is more environmentally friendly than the current petrochemical method. The goal of this project was to analyze NREL’s lab scale procedure of making adipic acid and determine if it could be viably industrialized. This was accomplished by designing and building an industrial process model based on NREL’s methods and data and the current availability of lignin. Economic and sensitivities analyses were completed and safety and environmental concerns were researched and addressed. All of this was taken into consideration in order to determine if industrializing the production of adipic acid from lignin is feasible, and if the process could compete with the current petrochemical method.

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Lignin to Adipic Acid

Lignin is a heterogeneous mixture of aromatic polymers found in plant cell walls. Cellulosic ethanol plants, whose feedstocks are made up of plant materials such as corn stover, produce lignin as a coproduct along with ethanol. Currently, that lignin is burned as a low energy fuel, but since the production of ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks is expected to increase significantly in the next few years, alternative uses for lignin are being researched. The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has demonstrated that lignin can be converted to adipic acid, a precursor to nylon-6,6, which has many uses. Using a genetically engineered strain of P. putida to funnel lignin to muconic acid and then hydrogenation to produce adipic acid, NREL’s production of adipic acid is more environmentally friendly than the current petrochemical method. The goal of this project was to analyze NREL’s lab scale procedure of making adipic acid and determine if it could be viably industrialized. This was accomplished by designing and building an industrial process model based on NREL’s methods and data and the current availability of lignin. Economic and sensitivities analyses were completed and safety and environmental concerns were researched and addressed. All of this was taken into consideration in order to determine if industrializing the production of adipic acid from lignin is feasible, and if the process could compete with the current petrochemical method.