The chemistry of emerging carbonaceous feedstocks:

Our laboratory has a wide range of skills to handle with carbonaceous materials of different origin: lignocellulose, industrial lignin, triglycerides, fatty acids, polysaccharides and sugars as well as plastic waste streams. This includes the development of biorefinery strategies, purifications, extractions and designing for valorisation pathways, as well as deep analysis of starting materials and derived product streams, including complex mixtures.

Lignin first approaches:

Lignin first approaches unlock the unique potential of lignin for the production of well-defined aromatic chemicals. The development of biorefining processes based on lignin-first methodologies allows for an atom-efficient and more sustainable utilization of lignocellulosic biomass by deriving value from both lignin as well as polysaccharides polysaccharides through stabilization chemistry, whereby stabilization happens by catalysis or protection group chemistry. We have pioneered diol-assisted acidolyis approaches that can be potentially aligned with existing biorefinery approaches. Here we are particularly interested in the identification and in situ stabilization of reactive intermediates obtained upon lignin acidolysis. Another focus area deals with reductive catalytic fractionation using a range of Earth-abundant metal catalysts. [1], [2], [3], [4]

Sustainable catalysis:

The catalysis program combines catalyst synthesis, characterization and catalytic methodology development both in homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts with particular focus on Earth-abundant metals and the development of atom-economic functionalization of the renewable building blocks.

The design of atom efficient synthetic routes with the highest incorporation of reagents and minimum generation of waste is highly desired in biomass valorization processes and beyond. In that regard, the hydrogen borrowing approach excels as a powerful method for the utilization of biomass derived alcohols as alkylating agents in C-C and C-N bond forming reactions mediated by both heterogeneous and homogenous catalytic systems with only water as a side product. Inspired by this principle, our group has established efficient strategies for the catalytic amination of lignin-derived alcohols towards the synthesis of high-value N-chemicals displaying a promising application in multiple areas such as pharmaceuticals, surfactants and polymers. Moreover, the ability to use renewable alcohols such as ethanol as alkylating agents also provides a promising access to alcohol-based fuels via C-C bond formation, in the search of sustainable alternatives to fossil-based resources.

In addition to C-N bond forming reactions, we are also active in atom-economic C-C bond forming reactions such as hydroformylation or hydroaminomethylation. Our main focus here is on the synthesis of compounds useful in the fragrance industry, or the development of catalytic routes towards valuable amine-containing compounds useful in the pharmaceutical, surfactant and polymer industry.

Hydrogenation and transfer hydrogenation are also studied in our laboratory. Biomass could also be used as a promising feedstock for the production of clean hydrogen (H2) because it is abundant, cheap and sustainable (naturally produced from sunlight and CO2). We are hence interested in studying acceptorless dehydrogenation methods chiefly by base-metal catalysts or other alternative methods for hydrogen production. [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Circular bioproducts:

Building on our expertise in biorefining and catalysis, we can now engage in downstream processing of renewable platform chemicals, and interested to establish sustainable value-chains to usable products. The goal is to provide synthetic methods to access a variety of value-added product classes, detailed below.

Materials and polymers from renewable resources:
We aim to design and synthesize a series of bio-based polymeric materials generated from renewables. We aim to reach low toxicity, good thermal and mechanical properties, and high potential of inherent recyclability, representing potential alternatives to the traditional petroleum-based thermoplastics and thermosets. [11], [12], [13], [14]

Bio-based surfactants:
Our main aim here is to design and synthesize high performance bio-based surfactants from bio-renewable substrates. These sustainable substrates include but are not limited to lignin-derived starting materials (such as vanillin, guaiacol, syringol, etc.), sugar and sugar-derived products, fatty acids, and amino acids. We target to obtain materials with low toxicity, excellent physicochemical properties, while maintaining high biodegradability.

Check out the EIC Transition project’s website for more

Active pharmaceutical ingredients:
Lignin- and biomass-derived platform chemicals bear sufficiently inherent complexity to serve as starting point for the development of atom-economic pathways to access more complex products, such as biologically active molecules or API. Including such high-value products generally enhances the economic feasibility of lignocellulosic biorefineries. At the same time, the incorporation of the principles of green chemistry into manufacturing protocols provides a sustainable route to produce pharmaceuticals, where reduction of E-factors, hazardous waste and avoiding extensive solvent use is of great interest. [15]

E-fuels/sustainable aviation fuels:
We are also interested in designing the next-generation of naturally-derived high density fuels for application in long-distance mobility, or aviation industry. [16]

Sustainable biorefinery concepts:
We aim for an integrated approach where biorefining, catalysis, alternative solvents and chemical engineering are utilized to construct biorefinery concepts, which also includes separations, purifications, and fractionation as well as downstream processing.

Alternative solvents:
Solvents play a crucial role in biorefining and green chemistry. Therefore, we are interested in the development of catalytic methods using green solvents. Particular focus areas are in the use of alternative solvents in catalysis.

Supercritical fluids:
Supercritical methanol can also act as solvent, and at the same time serve as source of hydrogen that can be in turn used for depolymerization, or as a C1-carbon source for example for the construction of benzimidazole derivatives. These transformations are facilitated by Cu- and other transition metal doped porous metal oxides. [17], [18], [19]

Tailor made ionic liquids and deep eutectic solvents:
Research directed to designing novel multifunctional solvents is actively pursued in our laboratory. A special focus is on non-conventional, and multifunctional solvents that include deep eutectic solvents (DES) and ionic liquids (ILs). An attractive feature of such solvents is found in the possibility to tailor their structural design for the incorporation of specific functions that are directed to achieve the desired tasks. For example, we aim to develop tuneable ternary DES systems which incorporate the ‘stabilization’ function crucial in lignin-first biorefining. Such highly ionic reaction media are able to efficiently solubilize/fractionate lignocellulose to its main constituents, potentially producing diol-stabilized lignin fragments. [20]

If you are curious to see how research in our lab works, watch the video: