A Review on Lignin Liquefaction: Advanced Characterization of Structure and Microkinetic Modeling

Evan Terrell, Lauren D. Dellon, Anthony Dufour, Erika Bartolomei, Linda J. Broadbelt, Manuel Garcia-Perez*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Lignin liquefaction microkinetics is a move toward a more first-principles (i.e., ab initio)-based understanding at the molecular level in reaction engineering. While the microkinetic modeling of reactions to obtain kinetic rate parameters of chemical reactions have been widely used in the field of gas phase combustion and heterogeneous catalysis, this approach has not been as thoroughly developed in the area of biomass thermochemical reactions (e.g., lignin pyrolysis, hydrothermal liquefaction). The difficulties in establishing the structure of complex heterogeneous materials, like lignin, is perhaps the main challenge in developing rational microkinetic descriptions of biomass thermochemical reactions. In this manuscript, we review the current state of the art and the challenges to develop microkinetic models for lignin liquefaction technologies (e.g., pyrolysis, hydrothermal liquefaction, solvolysis). A general strategy for the development of microkinetic models for lignin liquefaction technologies is discussed. The first hurdle is to obtain sufficiently rich experimental data of lignin underlying polymeric structure and methodologies to use this data to build realistic lignin structural representations. Some analytical techniques for lignin structural characterization and their associated data, as well as a correlation for calculating the degree of macromolecular lignin branching, are discussed. The presence of small lignin oligomeric structures and the role of these structures in lignin pyrolysis is also addressed. The ways in which elementary deconstruction and repolymerization reactions occur within this structure to form a liquid intermediate and how these deconstruction products continue to interact with each other until they are removed from the liquid intermediate is thoroughly discussed. Further, experimental work with model compounds and the effect of reaction parameters (e.g., temperature, pressure, vapor residence time) are reviewed. Another major challenge to develop microkinetic models of lignin liquefaction is to describe product removal mechanisms (e.g., evaporation, solubilization, thermal ejection) from the liquid intermediate. Group contribution methods are presented for estimation of thermophysical parameters, like normal boiling point and heat of vaporization for model structures. Once the products have been removed from the liquid intermediate, they continue reacting in the aerosol droplets, in vapor phase, or in the solvent depending on the liquefaction technology studied. These "secondary reactions" need to be included in realistic microkinetic models. Based on this review, we can state that with careful implementation, high-quality microkinetic models can be developed to simulate thermochemical lignin liquefaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)526-555
Number of pages30
JournalIndustrial and Engineering Chemistry Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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