BioLi2.0 – From lignin to bio-based transportation fuels and chemicals

The project BioLi2.0 – From lignin to bio-based transportation fuels and chemicals started in August 2016 and ended in 2019. Companies, research institutes and academia worked together within the project to develop processes for the production of transportation fuels and chemicals based on the renewable resource lignin.

The innovation project manager was Katarina Ohlsson from RISE, who succeeded Marie Anheden in December 2017. The total budget for the project was SEK 36 million.

The purpose of BioLi2.0 has been to develop bio-based alternatives to transportation fuels and chemicals from lignin and to integrate these value chains with existing Swedish industry. In BioLi2.0, Swedish industry has participated in the development of new processes for the production of odour free lignin, transportation fuels and the fine chemical vanillin from lignin. The processes have been validated by largescale and pilot tests that have increased the TRLs of the technologies from 3 to 4-7. In addition, a value chain has been techno economically evaluated. New analytical methods have been developed to be able to understand and characterize products along the value chains. These results have paved the way for new demonstration plants in Sweden for utilization of lignin.

– We have reached the up-scaling targets formulated in the projects. By working together, BioLi2.0 has contributed to the creation of valuable networks that are important to the continued development of the lignin area. The analysis guidelines that have been developed in the project build knowledge that will be valuable when it comes to open up the market to lignin as a raw material, says Katarina Ohlsson.

The challenge

The world’s oil consumption is steadily increasing. In order to tackle the challenge of increased carbon emissions we need to increase the use of renewable raw materials with a shorter cycle. For plants, the cycle ranges from less than a year to a couple of decades.

Lignin is a renewable resource that has great potential as raw material for the chemicals and petroleum industry. Lignin is the second most common component of plants after cellulose and acts as the plant’s skeleton. Trees and other plants consist of about 20-30 % lignin. It is currently used on a large scale in the pulp and paper industries to generate steam and electricity, but energy savings, optimisation and the use of other forestry by-products for energy purposes mean that the potential to use it for other applications is great.

– With the help of new chemical processes developed within the project, it is possible to separate the lignin, process it and convert it so that it acquires similar properties to those of petroleum raw materials such as coal and oil, thus making it a viable substitute for these products, explains former project manager Marie Anheden.

The use of lignin derived from forestry raw materials is expected to contribute to a sustainable Swedish society in many ways:

  • lowered carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector and chemical products
  • replacing fossil raw materials with renewable materials and thus contributing to increased sustainability
  • more secure energy supply through the use of national resources and raw materials
  • new business opportunities for associated industries (primarily the forestry industry and the refinery sector of the petrochemicals industry)
  • potential to utilise the technology developed to leverage other sources of lignin derived from other processes.

Project aims

One of the project’s aims was to develop selected technologies and establish value chains for lignin, and to increase the technological maturity level (i.e. from small-scale development to demonstration of a prototype in a relevant industrial environment).

As a result of BioLi2.0, a first demonstration plant would showcase a complete value chain, from lignin to end product in the form of chemicals or transportation fuels. It would begin operation in Sweden within five years of the start of the project.

Implementation and stakeholders

The project was implemented by 22 parties representing Swedish companies, research institutes and academia. The project was split into five sub-projects covering chains from raw materials to products by way of chemical conversion and purification. The project has further developed and scaled up new processes and assessed the technical and financial potential of different value chains.

List of project partners (PDF)

The project was financed by Vinnova, Formas and the Swedish Energy Agency, as well as by the participating project parties.

The project’s organisational structure

The next step

– We will continue the research based on the results of the project. Among other things, Valmet and RISE will continue to develop odourless lignin. The industrial parties will continue with their interesting activities and plans to produce fine chemicals and transportation fuels from lignin in large scale, says Katarina Ohlsson.