Researchers in America have fused biological and chemical processes to convert a biofuel waste product into a valuable resource.

Sandia National Laboratories bioengineer, Seema Singh, and her team, have combined gentler biological processes with rapid chemical ones, to break down the lignin material left over after biofuel production. This is a major breakthrough, as lignin usually ends up piled up as an unused waste product.

The two new methods pioneered at Sandia produce ‘high-value chemicals’ that are currently only available from petroleum: ‘muconic acid and pyrogallol’. Muconic acid is commonly used to make products like plastics, nylon, resins or lubricants, while pyrogallol has ‘anti-cancer applications’.

“Muconic acid is what we call a platform chemical. From there, creating new products is really just a matter of imagination,” Seema said.

She added that together, muconic acid and pyrogallol, have a ‘market value of $255.7 billion’. Another positive knock-on effect, is that the increased revenues generated could subsidise biofuel production and help reduce emissions.

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