The Smart Mix initiative CatchBio, a joint industry/academia eight-year research program in the field of catalytic biomass conversion, has awarded the groups of prof. dr. Gadi Rothenberg (UvA) and dr. Jacco van Haveren (WUR / A&F) €1.1 million to carry out research on the catalytic valorisation of lignin to key phenols and aromatics.
Phenol and its derivatives are important bulk chemicals for a variety of processes. For example, phenol is used in the production of drugs - it is the starting material in the industrial production of aspirin - various herbicides, and synthetic resins like Bakelite.
Lignin, the gluey stuff that holds trees together, represents about 20% of terrestrial biomass. It is nature's most abundant source of aromatics, much better access than carbohydrates or proteins. The problem is that it forms highly cross-linked three-dimensional structures, that are difficult to process. Moreover, lignin decomposition results in complex product mixtures, that hamper commercial application. This project centers on finding and optimising active, stable and selective catalysts for depolymerising lignin, and upgrading the resulting product mixture into a small number of valuable phenols/aromatics. Such new technology would have a major economic impact on the production of phenolics, ultimately forming an integral part of bio-refining.
The research in Amsterdam will be carried out by dr. Stefania Grecea of the Heterogenous catalysis and sustainable chemistry group. She is a laureate of the prestigious NWO vernieuwingsimpuls programme.
CatchBio is part of the € 100 million investment program Smart Mix of the Dutch government aimed at boosting innovation in the Netherlands. Approximately half of the € 29 million budget is financed through this investment program by the Dutch ministery of Economic Affairs and the ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The other half is financed by all the industrial and academic partners involved in CatchBio.