Valorization of Lignin as a Sustainable Component of Structural Materials and Composites: Advances from 2011 to 2019
Lignin is the most abundant aromatic biopolymer and is the sustainable feedstock most likely to supplant petroleum-derived aromatics and downstream products. Rich in functional groups, lignin is largely peerless in its potential for chemical modification towards attaining target properties. Lignin’s crosslinked network structure can be exploited in composites to endow them with remarkable strength, as exemplified in timber and other structural elements of plants. Yet lignin may also be depolymerized, modified, or blended with other polymers. This review focuses on substituting petrochemicals with lignin derivatives, with a particular focus on applications more significant in terms of potential commercialization volume, including polyurethane, phenol-formaldehyde resins, lignin-based carbon fibers, and emergent melt-processable waste-derived materials. This review will illuminate advances from the last eight years in the prospective utilization of such lignin-derived products in a range of application such as adhesives, plastics, automotive components, construction materials, and composites. Particular technical issues associated with lignin processing and emerging alternatives for future developments are discussed.