Guidelines for performing lignin-first biorefining
The valorisation of the plant biopolymer lignin is now recognised as essential to enabling the economic viability of the lignocellulosic biorefining industry. In this context, the “lignin-first” biorefining approach, in which lignin valorisation is considered in the design phase, has demonstrated the fullest utilisation of lignocellulose. We define lignin-first methods as active stabilisation approaches that solubilise lignin from native lignocellulosic biomass while avoiding condensation reactions, leading to more recalcitrant lignin polymers. This active stabilisation can be accomplished by solvolysis and catalytic conversion of reactive intermediates to stable products or by protection-group chemistry of lignin oligomers or reactive monomers. Across the growing body of literature in this field, there are disparate approaches to report and analyse the results from lignin-first approaches, thus making quantitative comparisons between studies challenging. To that end, we present herein a set of guidelines for analysing critical data from lignin-first approaches, including feedstock analysis and process parameters, with the ambition of uniting the lignin-first research community around a common set of reportable metrics. These guidelines comprise standards and best practices or minimum requirements for feedstock analysis, stressing reporting of the fractionation efficiency, product yields, solvent mass balances, catalyst efficiency, and the requirements for additional reagents such as reducing, oxidising, or capping agents. Our goal is to establish best practices for the research community at large primarily to enable direct comparisons between studies from different laboratories. The use of these guidelines will be helpful for the newcomers to this field and pivotal for further progress in this exciting research area.