Opportunities for lignin valorization: an exploratory process

Stephen P. Cline, Paul M. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: For decades, the pulp industry has struggled to create sustainable value-added opportunities for lignin, and the issue is now at the forefront of second-generation biorefinery research and development efforts. Our work presents a sequential process for examining potential lignin valorization. The chemical and physical properties of lignin cause issues in isolation, characterization, and standardization and, therefore, product manufacturing. First, a short list of high-opportunity lignin products was developed from the literature. Several low-hanging product opportunities were identified, from which, lignin-based powdered activated carbon (PAC) for the sequestration of mercury from power plant flue gas was selected for further examination due, in part, to lignin’s similarity to lignite coal. Next, an analysis of the web-based written content of PAC suppliers’ promotional materials was performed to assess the attributes on which PAC products are sold and purchased. Finally, potential electric generating power plant buyers/users of lignin-based PAC for mercury sequestration were surveyed to examine the importance of 16 PAC product and service attributes, identify potential entry barriers for a new PAC product, and assess the market opportunity for lignin-based PAC. Methods: This research deployed a multi-phase market analysis based process including: a PAC vendor content analysis; and survey techniques. Phase I analyzed web-based content of PAC vendors’ promotional marketing literature tailored to power plant buyers/users for their PAC products. Phase II incorporated the Phase I results into an exploratory e-survey of select PAC buyers/users in the U.S. power generation industry. Combining these methods provides an exploratory market perspective on lignin valorization. Results: The top three product and service attributes for buyers/users of PAC for mercury mitigation were Product Reliability, Product Effectiveness, and Proven Product Performance; the top three barriers to entry for a new lignin-based PAC include Title V Permitting, Operational Impacts, and Compliance with Regulations. Buyers/users are undecided about trial testing a lignin-based PAC product. Conclusions: This paper provides a logical and systematic process for exploring new product opportunities in business-to-business markets and provides insights into the market potential for lignin-based PAC for mitigating mercury emissions from US electric generating power plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number26
JournalEnergy, Sustainability and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Opportunities for lignin valorization: an exploratory process'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this