Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Kraft Lignin - The influence of capping agents and residence time
Licentiatavhandling, 2021

In the context of exploring alternatives to replace fossil resources, lignin has been acknowledged as a renewable source of various aromatic compounds that have the potential of being precursors to chemicals as well as fuel additives. Originating from lignocellulosic biomass such as wood, lignin is an amorphous polymer with a high content of aromatic units and, in order to harness these units, it must be depolymerised. A major problem with current depolymerisation techniques, however, is that lignin repolymerises after being depolymerised, and forms an undesirable char fraction. The addition of capping agents and fine-tuning the reaction conditions can be used to mitigate such formation of char.

This work has investigated the depolymerisation of kraft lignin in hydrothermal conditions under varying temperatures (290-335 °C), residence times (1-12 min) and charges of isopropanol (IPA/dry lignin, 0-4.9) which, aside from being a co-solvent, was hypothesised as acting as a capping agent. The influence of these reaction parameters on the molecular weights, yields and elemental compositions of the products was studied, along with changes in the molecular structure compared to the starting lignin.

The product is a suspension of solid material, i.e. char, in an aqueous phase and thus any desired organic liquid phase requires extraction from the aqueous product. While the yield of char increased with temperature and residence time, it decreased with increasing isopropanol loading, suggesting that the isopropanol does in fact act as a capping agent.

Most of the lignin forms a water-soluble fraction that precipitates when the aqueous product phase is acidified, thereby forming the precipitated solids fraction (PS). The components remaining dissolved after acidification of the product phase are known as acid soluble organics (ASO). A portion of the ASO fraction was aromatic monomers, with guaiacol dominating: this result was expected since the lignin was sourced from softwood. The amount of such monomers increased with residence time in the reactor.

Molecular weight analyses showed a rapid depolymerisation of the lignin within 1 min of hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) treatment via a significant decrease in the molecular weight of all product fractions: char, PS and ASO. Moreover, the carbon-oxygen inter-unit linkages were found to break in this timeframe as well. The repolymerisation reactions started to exceed depolymerisation between residence times of 4 and 12 min, causing the weight average molecular weight (Mw) to increase again. Although minimising the residence time allows the char yield and Mw to be kept low, more monomers were formed at longer residence times. This calls for careful tuning of the residence time in the HTL of kraft lignin.


hydrothermal liquefaction


residence time

kraft lignin

KC-salen, Kemigården 4


Anders Ahlbom

Chalmers, Kemi och kemiteknik, Kemiteknik

Ahlbom A, Maschietti M, Nielsen R, Hasani M, Theliander H. Towards understanding kraft lignin depolymerisation under hydrothermal conditions

Från lignin till biobränslen och specialkemikalier

Energimyndigheten (45395-1), 2018-01-01 -- 2021-12-31.


Kemiska processer

Annan kemiteknik

Annan kemi


Chalmers materialanalyslaboratorium

Licentiatuppsatser vid Institutionen för kemi- och bioteknik, Chalmers tekniska högskola: 2021:22



KC-salen, Kemigården 4


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