Belgian scientists uncovered a new process for making paper that could also benefit plastics and chemical manufacturers.
Traditional paper processing requires the use of heavy chemistry to remove lignin — a substance that lines the cell walls of plants — from wood. As a result, the lignin essentially becomes a waste product and that is burned by paper companies.
Researchers from the KU Leuven Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis, however, used a chemical catalyst and solvent to extract the lignin from wood in a small chemical reactor. The resulting lignin oil can then be broken down into smaller chemical building blocks with a wide range of potential industrial uses.
Professor Bert Sels said the study, published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, "rethinks the concept of bio-refining."
In addition to providing materials for plastics, solvents, flavorings and other materials, the new process could also reduce waste material and make the paper industry more eco-friendly.
"This brings added value to the paper industry, which is a great bonus in the current economic context," Sels said.