Development of Nanocrystalline Graphite from Lignin Sources

Valerie García-Negrón, Stephen C. Chmely, Jan Ilavsky, David J. Keffer, David P. Harper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Carbon composites are attractive to a variety of high-impact applications, such as carbon fibers, batteries, and vehicle parts, due to their multifunctional properties. The properties of carbon are highly dependent on the allotrope the carbon takes and the functionality, impurities, and defects contained within the structure. The increase in demand for sustainable carbon sources in energy storage devices motivates interest in understanding synthesis parameters of lignin value-added products. Also, as the dependence on oil for fuel decreases, alternative sources for carbon in many applications will be needed. In this work, the thermochemical conversion of lignin powders from different feedstocks was evaluated via small and wide-angle X-ray scattering techniques to resolve the amorphous, disordered, and crystalline domains present in the lignin carbons. Scattering analyses indicated an evolution of hierarchical structures along with an increase in ordered domains as a function of carbonization temperature. Qualitative and quantitative methods were used to describe isotropic scattering intensity profiles at multiple length scales. The use of power law models in the mesoscopic region served as the basis to describe morphological changes related to structural features, for example, graphene stacking, degree of roughness, and surface fractals. Kraft softwood and switchgrass produced carbon powder with the most crystalline domains and the least surface roughness. Softwoods reached the highest degree of crystallinity followed by switchgrass samples and had less variability in particle sizes. These results suggest lignin carbons extracted from softwoods and switchgrass are viable substitutes for graphite. Interpretation of X-ray scattering data from lignin carbon powders elucidates feedstock- and processing-dependent morphological features across multiple length scales providing a straightforward framework to evaluate the feasibility of leveraging lignin carbons for producing tunable application-specific materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1786-1794
Number of pages9
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 7 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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