Techno-economic comparative assessment of novel lignin depolymerization routes to bio-based aromatics

Iris Vural Gursel*, Jan W. Dijkstra, Wouter J.J. Huijgen, Andrea Ramirez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
88 Downloads (Pure)


This paper presents a techno-economic assessment of three novel routes for the production of bio-based aromatics from lignin. It aims to provide insights into their feasibility and hotspots at an early stage of development to guide further research and development and to facilitate commercialization. The lignin conversion routes are: (non-catalytic) lignin pyrolysis, direct hydrodeoxygenation (HDO), and hydrothermal upgrading (HyThUp). The products generated are mixed oxygenated aromatic monomers (MOAMON), light organics, heavy organics, and char. For the technical assessment, conceptual design followed by process modeling in Aspen Plus was based on experimental yields. The models generated indispensable data on material and energy flows. An economic assessment was then conducted by estimating operating and capital costs. Return on investment (ROI), payback period (PBP), and net present value (NPV) were used as key performance indicators. Downstream processing was especially demanding in the HyThUp process due to the presence of a significant flow rate of water in the system, which significantly increased external utility requirements. Due to complex separations, the HyThUp process showed the highest capital cost (35% more than pyrolysis). Operating costs were the highest for the direct HDO process (34% more than pyrolysis) due to the use of hydrogen. Overall, the direct HDO process showed the highest ROI (12%) and the shortest PBP (5 years) due to high yields of valuable heavy organics (32%) and MOAMON (24%). Direct HDO was found to be feasible with a positive NPV based on prices used in the assessment. Among the three processes investigated, the direct HDO process therefore appeared to be the most promising, and consideration should be given to further development and commercialization of this process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1068-1084
Number of pages17
JournalBiofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • biobased aromatics
  • hydrodeoxygenation
  • hydrothermal upgrading
  • lignin depolymerization
  • lignin valorization
  • lignocellulosic biorefinery
  • pyrolysis
  • techno-economic analysis


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