Ties Korstanje receives VENI grant for biomass conversion research

15 July 2016

Dr. Ties Korstanje of the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences has been awarded a VENI grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). He will receive a maximum of 250,000 euros for his three year research project into the conversion of non-edible parts of plants into a sustainable feedstock for the chemical industry.

Korstanje aims to develop new homogeneous catalysts that will enable a one-step conversion method of lignin, one of the major constituents of biomass, into three aromatic chemicals with great value for the chemical industry. He will perform his research as part of the UvA’s research priority area Sustainable Chemistry.

Switching to sustainable feedstock

Dr. TIes Korstanje. Photo HIMS.

Currently almost all chemicals produced by industry are based on fossil feedstocks such as oil, (shale)gas and coal. These are non-sustainable feedstocks and their usage contributes to several environmental problems such as global warming and pollution. In switching to a more sustainable feedstock, biomass provides a viable alternative.

However, to be able to chemically utilize biomass, much technological advancement is required. For instance, from the 9 major platform chemicals used in chemical industry, three are aromatic chemicals: benzene, toluene and xylene (the so-called BTX fraction). To be able to completely switch to biomass as a feedstock it is vital that these aromatic platform chemicals can be obtained.

In this respect one of the most interesting constituents of biomass is lignin, a sturdy, three-dimensional natural polymer. It consists of aromatic subunits, functionalized with methoxyl and hydroxyl groups. Unfortunately lignin is a very difficult substrate for chemical transformations. So far no commercially applicable system has been developed for either the depolymerisation or the hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) of lignin.

Ensuring applicability

The catalysts Korstanje aims to develop will be , based on abundant, cheap and non-toxic first-row transition metals. They will enable mild conditions and can operate with high selectivity. Since homogeneous catalysts are highly mobile they are the catalysts of choice for depolymerization reactions.

To ensure their applicability Korstanje will test the developed systems for a wide range of lignin-derived substrates. He will also apply them to a genuine stream of processed lignin, hopefully demonstrating their potential for application in the industrial production of BTX from lignin.

Published by  HIMS