Today, the overreliance on harmful heavy metals-based catalysts highlights the urgent need for sustainable and renewable alternatives. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is imperative for environmental sustainability. Lignin-derived biofuels offer a sustainable alternative, as they can be produced from renewable plant materials and have less carbon footprint compared to their fossil counterparts.

Lignin, derived from the Latin word “lignum” means “wood,”. Lignin represents 30% of all non-fossil-based organic carbon in lignocellulosic biomass, and is recognised as a potential raw material to replace depleting fossil-based resources. With its inherent bio-availability, bio-compatibility, and bio-degradability, lignin is increasingly becoming known as a versatile raw material for diverse applications. Moreover, synthetic polymers, are witnessing a shift towards lignin-based alternatives due to their comparable properties and lower environmental impact.

Despite lignin’s immense potential, a staggering percentage—98%—is currently incinerated for heat and power generation, emphasizing the untapped opportunities for value-added applications. Technical lignins, often relegated to energy production in the pulp and paper industry, harbor untapped potential for higher-value utilization. Leveraging enzymes as natural biocatalysts, lignosulfonates can be transformed into polymeric materials tailored for construction applications, heralding a paradigm shift towards sustainable building practices.

In initiatives like BIOBUILD, lignin-based binders are being developed for wallboards, aiming to deliver comparable or superior performance to conventional counterparts while reducing environmental impact. These endeavors underscore lignin’s versatility and its pivotal role in driving sustainable innovation across industries.

BIOBUILD’s partner BOKU (The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna) will be developing a lignosuflonates based binder which utilizes the polymerization capacity of laccases and enzyme found in nature. The aims are to formulate the perfect binder for the wood particles used in wall boards and the upscaling of the production process of the binder to 30 l scale. This will enable BOKU to test the mechanical properties and the chemical properties of the binder and further enable other project partners to test the produced composites regarding their thermal properties.

In the project, BOKU will also oversee the development process of other binders and facilitate the materials exchanges. The university is also providing input for the production of the wallboards as well as providing input for the Life Cycle Analyses and economic performance assessments in and dissemination of the project results at conferences and lectures.

In conclusion, lignin emerges as a renewable biomaterial poised to displace fossil-based products, offering a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative. Despite extraction challenges, ongoing research and development hold the promise of unlocking lignin’s full potential, paving the way for a greener future.