Industry explores renewable resources, such as lignin

April 11, 2002

(Blacksburg, Va., April 11, 2002) -- At professional meetings worldwide, polymer chemists are organizing sessions to look at such renewable resources as starch; wood-derived cellulose, xylan, and lignin; chitin; and other carbohydrates. Increased use of lignin is one strategy being discussed at the 223rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society, April 7-11 in Orlando.

"We envision an industrial technology that is sustainable - that makes use of renewable resources to run industrial processes, instead of pumping oil out of Alaska. This is what people all over the world want, what the Kyoto Accords are all about," says Wolfgang Glasser, professor of wood science and forest products at Virginia Tech.

Lignin, a natural polymer isolated from wood during papermaking and biomass fractionation, can be added to a host of materials to replace oil-derived resources, and to make those materials biodegradable and environmentally-friendly.

"Plants fix carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere using solar energy, and this generates between one and 10 gigatons of biomass a year. It's fantastic. Solar energy used by plants to cycle carbon into biomass energizes all forms of life at perpetuity. The amounts of materials we could harvest and transform into everyday products on a sustainable basis are gigantic," says Glasser.

Industry wishes to adopt nature's ways of sustainability. "So we are looking at the current state of art in making use of these biomass resources for industrial materials."

Glasser has worked with lignin for a long time, extracting it from wood and agricultural harvesting residues and from paper-making waste. He has engineered materials from it, working on the molecular level, and has patents for applications ranging from biomedical materials to household items. Now he has teamed up with Jairo H. Lora of Media, Pa., who markets lignin as a powder for the Swiss company, Granit S.A.

Lora and Glasser's paper will highlight examples of industrial uses for sulfur-free, water-insoluble lignins from agricultural crops. Lora will demonstrate how lignin can be used in automotive brake pads. Other uses are in wood panels, polyurethanes for insulation boards, epoxy resins for printed circuit boards, and biodispersants.

"Recent industrial applications of lignin -- A sustainable alternative to nonrenewable materials" (PMSE 243), by Lora and Glasser will be presented at 9:50 a.m. Thursday, April 11, in Convention Center room 311G, level three.
-end-
Contact for more information:
Dr. Glasser, wglasser@vt.edu, 540-231-4403
Mr. Lora, jhlora@aol.com
PR CONTACT: Lynn Davis (540) 231-6157 davisl@vt.edu

Virginia Tech

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