In Wisconsin, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) with partners at the Center for Bioenergy Innovation (CBI) have shown that a recently-discovered variety of the substance, catechyl lignin (C-lignin), has attributes that could make it well-suited as the starting point for a range of bioproducts. Their findings have been published in Science Advances.
Because C-lignin monomers are held together by only one kind of bond, called ether linkages, they can be cleaved cleanly into units with the right chemical treatment. These building blocks can then be transformed in different ways depending on the desired output.
Researchers suspected hydrogenolysis would be able to cleave the ether bonds that hold C-lignin monomers together. In this case, the approach produced a simple pair of monomers in roughly 90 percent yield. Choosing the right catalyst could narrow it down to a single monomer—a striking result for a plant component oft-maligned for its obstinance.