Sustainable binder: Upscaling new lignin-phenol-formaldehyde resin production with wood-based biorefinery lignin.
Phenolic resins are one of the most versatile polymers invented, with a wide range of industrial applications ranging from vehicle components to furniture manufacture. However, the raw materials for manufacturing these resins are currently fossil based. Therefore, there is a need to find alternative source for these if Europe is to deliver on its ambitions for a circular economy.
One potential sustainable source for use in these resins is lignin. Lignin is widely available as a by-product of forestry-based industries, such as pulp and paper production. The VIOBOND project will create the first commercially viable resin plant, producing formaldehyde resins that will partially substitute the fossil-based phenol and formaldehyde with lignin-derived raw materials. This flagship plant will produce around 45,000 tonnes of the resin per year, which will be used for plywood manufacture and coating, sandpaper adhesive and glass wool thermal insulation binder. The project will demonstrate the efficacy of the resin production process and help transform lignin from a low value feedstock to one that can create high-added value materials.
By making the business case for of lignin phenol formaldehyde resins, it will help accelerate their commercial introduction and advance the environmental benefits that this will bring. It will also offer European innovation access to markets and demonstrating its leadership in bio-based industries.
The overarching objective of the VIOBOND project is to demonstrate the viability of replacing phenol and formaldehyde sourced from fossil-based sources with lignin-derived materials. Within this, it will pursue a number of specific objectives.
- From an environmental perspective, the new lignin-based production process will increase the sustainability of plywood manufacture and other products that rely on the resin by replacing the fossil-derived phenol and formaldehyde with renewables. This impact will be accentuated by a simpler production process, which will help reduce greenhouse gases. In addition, by upcycling lignin in place of conventional fossil-based chemicals, it will contribute towards increasing the resource efficiency in Europe.
- From an economic perspective, the project will increase the value of lignin by at least 50% compared with its current value, while remaining less costly than the current sources of fossil-based phenol and formaldehyde. The project will also demonstrate the feasibility of an effective and efficient business model for lignin transformation, one which could be replicated elsewhere in Europe. This is a high-potential market; the current sales of phenolic resins in Europe are around €1 billion.
- From a societal perspective, the project will have an important impact on job creation. Importantly, the valorisation of lower value residual hardwood will create new business and jobs in the forestry sector based exclusively in rural areas, where they will offer an alternative to moving to urban areas. The shift to lignin-based resin production will also contribute to improving the competitiveness of European biomass producers and the bio-based industry will advance the circular economy.
Overall, the project will contribute to enhancing Europe’s innovation capacity within the bio-based economy.
The VIOBOND project is aiming to deliver a number of impacts that will contribute to the wider goals of the BBI-JU. These will include:
- Creating ten new cross-sectoral interconnections in the bio-based economy, between lignin suppliers and handlers and a range of manufacturers. In addition, it creates several sector-wise connections.
- Establishing six new bio-based value chains based on a range of lignin types into plywood lignin phenol-formaldehyde resins as well as refined hardwood lignin into plywood coating film binders, sandpaper adhesive and glass wool thermal insulation binder.
- Demonstrating six new bio-based lignin phenol-formaldehyde resins based on the value chains above.
- Demonstrate two new consumer products based on lignin-derived bio-based chemicals and materials, namely Sandpaper where the new resin is used as an adhesive and glass wool insulation where the new resin is used as a binder.
- In addition, the VIOBOND project will add to, and complement, the base of BBI-JU flagship projects and contribute the wider overall mission of the joint undertaking.