Profiling of the formation of lignin-derived monomers and dimers from Eucalyptus alkali lignin†
Lignin is a renewable and the most abundant aromatic source that can be used for extensive chemicals and materials. Although approximately 50 million tons of lignin are produced annually as a by-product of the pulp and paper industry, it is currently underutilized. It is important to know the structural features of technical lignin when considering its application. In this work, we have demonstrated the formation of low-molecular-weight constituents from hardwood (Eucalyptus) lignin, which produces much more low-molecular-weight constituents than softwood (spruce) lignin, after a chemical pulping process, and analyzed the micromolecular compositions in the alkali lignin after fractionation by dichloromethane (DCM) extraction. By applying analytical methods (gel-permeation chromatography, 2D NMR and GC-MS) with the aid of evidence from authenticated compounds, a great treasure trove of lignin-derived phenolic compounds from Eucalyptus alkali lignin were disclosed. Except for some common monomeric products, as many as 15 new lignin-derived monomers and dimers including syringaglycerol, diarylmethane, 1,2-diarylethanes, 1,2-diarylethenes, (arylvinyl ether)-linked arylglycerol dimers and isomeric syringaresinols were identified in the DCM-soluble fraction. Regarding the formation and evolution of the Cα-condensed β-aryl ether structure, a novel route that is potentially responsible for the high content of β-1 diarylethenes and diarylethanes in the lignin low-molecular-weight fraction, in addition to the β-1 (spirodienone) pathway, was proposed. This work not only provides novel insights into the chemical transformation of S–G lignin during the alkali pulping process, but also discovered lignin-derived phenolic monomers and dimers that can potentially be used as raw materials in the chemical or pharmaceutical industries.