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Title: Lignin  
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Subject: Wood, Paper, Cellulose, Black liquor, Dietary fiber
Collection: Papermaking, Phenylpropanoids
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Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Lignin is a class of complex vascular plants and some algae.[1] Lignins are particularly important in the formation of cell walls, especially in wood and bark, because they lend rigidity and do not rot easily. Chemically lignins are cross-linked phenol polymers.[2]


  • History 1
  • Composition 2
  • Biological function 3
  • Ecological function 4
  • Economic significance 5
  • Structure 6
  • Biosynthesis 7
  • Biodegradation 8
  • Pyrolysis 9
  • Chemical analysis 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


Lignin was first mentioned in 1813 by the Swiss botanist carbon[5] and a quarter to a third of the dry mass of wood.


The composition of lignin varies from species to species. An example of composition from an aspen sample is 63.4% carbon, 5.9% hydrogen, 0.7% ash, and 30% oxygen (by difference),[6] corresponding approximately to the formula (C31H34O11)n. As a biopolymer, lignin is unusual because of its heterogeneity and lack of a defined primary structure. Its most commonly noted function is the support through strengthening of wood (xylem cells) in trees.[7][8][9]

Global commercial production of lignin is around 1.1 million metric tons per year and is used in a wide range of low volume, niche applications where the form but not the quality is important.[10]

Biological function

Lignin fills the spaces in the cell wall between cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin components, especially in xylem tracheids, vessel elements and sclereid cells. It is covalently linked to hemicellulose and, therefore, crosslinks different plant polysaccharides, conferring mechanical strength to the cell wall and by extension the plant as a whole.[11] It is particularly abundant in compression wood but scarce in tension wood, which are types of reaction wood.

Lignin plays a crucial part in conducting water in plant stems. The polysaccharide components of plant cell walls are highly hydrophilic and thus permeable to water, whereas lignin is more hydrophobic. The crosslinking of polysaccharides by lignin is an obstacle for water absorption to the cell wall. Thus, lignin makes it possible for the plant's vascular tissue to conduct water efficiently.[12] Lignin is present in all vascular plants, but not in bryophytes, supporting the idea that the original function of lignin was restricted to water transport. However, it is present in red algae, which seems to suggest that the common ancestor of plants and red algae also synthesised lignin. This would suggest that its original function was structural; it plays this role in the red alga Calliarthron, where it supports joints between calcified segments.[1] Another possibility is that the lignin in red algae and in plants are result of convergent evolution, and not of a common origin.

Ecological function

Lignin plays a significant role in the carbon cycle, sequestering atmospheric carbon into the living tissues of woody perennial vegetation. Lignin is one of the most slowly decomposing components of dead vegetation, contributing a major fraction of the material that becomes humus as it decomposes. The resulting soil humus, in general, increases the photosynthetic productivity of plant communities growing on a site as the site transitions from disturbed mineral soil through the stages of ecological succession, by providing increased cation exchange capacity in the soil and expanding the capacity of moisture retention between flood and drought conditions.

Economic significance

Highly lignified wood is durable and therefore a good raw material for many applications. It is also an excellent fuel, since lignin yields more energy when burned than cellulose. Mechanical, or high-yield pulp used to make newsprint contains most of the lignin originally present in the wood. This lignin is responsible for newsprint's yellowing with age.[4] Lignin must be removed from the pulp before high-quality bleached paper can be manufactured.

In sulfite pulping, lignin is removed from wood pulp as sulfonates. These lignosulfonates have several uses:[13]

The first investigations into commercial use of lignin were reported by Marathon Corporation, a paper company based in Rothschild Wisconsin, starting in 1927. The first class of products that showed promise were leather tanning agents. The lignin chemical business of Marathon was operated for many years as Marathon Chemicals. It is now known as LignoTech USA, Inc., and is owned by the Norwegian company Borregaard.[14]

Lignin removed via the kraft process (sulfate pulping) is usually burned for its fuel value, providing energy to run the mill and its associated processes. Higher quality lignin presents the potential to become the main renewable aromatic resource for the chemical industry in the future, with an addressable market of more than $130bn.[15]

In 1998, a German company, Tecnaro, developed a process for turning lignin into a substance, called Arboform, which behaves identically to plastic for injection molding. Therefore, it can be used in place of plastic for several applications. When the item is discarded, it can be burned just like wood.[16]

In 2007, lignin extracted from shrubby willow was successfully used to produce expanded polyurethane foam.[17]

In 2012, it was shown carbon fiber can be produced from lignin instead of from fossil oil.[18]

In 2013, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology was supervising a trial of 448 poplar trees genetically engineered to produce less lignin so that they would be more suitable for conversion into bio-fuels.[19]


Fig. 1: An example of a possible lignin structure. The portion shown here (correcting a C2H to CH2 and not counting the side chain denoted "Carbohydrate") has 28 monomers (mostly coniferyl alcohol), 278 carbon atoms, 407 hydrogen atoms, and 94 oxygen atoms (64% carbon, 8% hydrogen, and 29% oxygen by weight) which seems to be too high in hydrogen.
Fig. 2: A small piece of lignin polymer
Fig. 3: The three common monolignols: paracoumaryl alcohol (1), coniferyl alcohol (2) and sinapyl alcohol (3)
Fig. 4: Polymerisation of coniferyl alcohol to lignin. The reaction has two alternative routes catalysed by two different oxidative enzymes, peroxidases or oxidases.

Lignin is a cross-linked racemic macromolecule with molecular masses in excess of 10,000 u. It is relatively hydrophobic and aromatic in nature. The degree of polymerisation in nature is difficult to measure, since it is fragmented during extraction and the molecule consists of various types of substructures that appear to repeat in a haphazard manner. Different types of lignin have been described depending on the means of isolation.[20]

There are three monolignol monomers, methoxylated to various degrees: p-coumaryl alcohol, coniferyl alcohol, and sinapyl alcohol[21] (Figure 3). These lignols are incorporated into lignin in the form of the phenylpropanoids p-hydroxyphenyl (H), guaiacyl (G), and syringyl (S), respectively.[5] Gymnosperms have a lignin that consists almost entirely of G with small quantities of H. That of dicotyledonous angiosperms is more often than not a mixture of G and S (with very little H), and monocotyledonous lignin is a mixture of all three.[5] Many grasses have mostly G, while some palms have mainly S.[22] All lignins contain small amounts of incomplete or modified monolignols, and other monomers are prominent in non-woody plants.[23]


Lignin biosynthesis (Figure 4) begins in the cytosol with the synthesis of glycosylated monolignols from the amino acid phenylalanine. These first reactions are shared with the phenylpropanoid pathway. The attached glucose renders them water-soluble and less toxic. Once transported through the cell membrane to the apoplast, the glucose is removed and the polymerisation commences.[24] Much about its anabolism is not understood even after more than a century of study.[5]

The polymerisation step, that is a radical-radical coupling, is catalysed by oxidative enzymes. Both peroxidase and laccase enzymes are present in the plant cell walls, and it is not known whether one or both of these groups participates in the polymerisation. Low molecular weight oxidants might also be involved. The oxidative enzyme catalyses the formation of monolignol radicals. These radicals are often said to undergo uncatalyzed coupling to form the lignin polymer, but this hypothesis has been recently challenged.[25] The alternative theory that involves an unspecified biological control is however not widely accepted.


Biodegradation of lignin by white rot fungi leads to destruction of wood on the forest floor and man-made structures such as fences and wooden buildings. However biodegradation of lignin is a necessary prerequisite for processing biofuel from plant raw materials. Current processing setups show some problematic residuals after processing the digestible or degradable contents. The improving of lignin degradation would drive the output from biofuel processing to better gain or better efficiency factor.

Lignin is indigestible by animals, which lack the

  • Tecnaro website

External links

  1. ^ a b Martone, Pt; Estevez, Jm; Lu, F; Ruel, K; Denny, Mw; Somerville, C; Ralph, J (Jan 2009). "Discovery of Lignin in Seaweed Reveals Convergent Evolution of Cell-Wall Architecture.". Current biology : CB 19 (2): 169–75.  
  2. ^ Lebo, Stuart E. Jr.; Gargulak, Jerry D.; McNally, Timothy J. (2001). "Lignin". Kirk‑Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.  
  3. ^ de Candolle, M.A.P. (1813). Theorie Elementaire de la Botanique ou Exposition des Principes de la Classification Naturelle et de l’Art de Decrire et d’Etudier les Vegetaux. Paris: Deterville. 
  4. ^ a b E. Sjöström (1993). Wood Chemistry: Fundamentals and Applications.  
  5. ^ a b c d W. Boerjan, J. Ralph, M. Baucher (June 2003). "Lignin biosynthesis". Ann. Rev. Plant Biol. 54 (1): 519–549.  
  6. ^ Hsiang-Hui King; Peter R. Solomon; Eitan Avni; Robert W. Coughlin (Fall 1983). "Modeling Tar Composition in Lignin Pyrolysis" (PDF). Symposium on Mathematical Modeling of Biomass Pyrolysis Phenomena, Washington, D.C., 1983. p. 1. 
  7. ^ (1995, Biology, Arms and Camp ).
  8. ^ Anatomy of Seed Plants, Esau, 1977
  9. ^ Wardrop; The (1969). "Eryngium sp.;". Aust. J. Botany 17: 229–240.  
  10. ^ NNFCC Renewable Chemicals Factsheet: Lignin
  11. ^ Chabannes, M.; et al. (2001). "In situ analysis of lignins in transgenic tobacco reveals a differential impact of individual transformations on the spatial patterns of lignin deposition at the cellular and subcellular levels". Plant J. 28 (3): 271–282.  
  12. ^ a b K.V. Sarkanen & C.H. Ludwig (eds) (1971). Lignins: Occurrence, Formation, Structure, and Reactions. New York: Wiley Intersci. 
  13. ^ "Uses of lignin from sulfite pulping". Retrieved 2007-09-10. 
  14. ^ "Borregaard LignoTech’s History 1927-2008". 
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ A greener alternative to plastics: liquid wood from MSNBC
  17. ^ Green plastic produced from biojoule material BioJoule Technologies Press Release, 12 July 2007.
  18. ^ Avancerade lättviktsmaterial från skogen
  19. ^ Hope, Alan (3 April 2013), News in brief: The Bio Safety Council..." Flanders Today, Page 2, Retrieved 27 April 2013
  20. ^ "Lignin and its Properties: Glossary of Lignin Nomenclature". Dialogue/Newsletters Volume 9, Number 1. Lignin Institute. July 2001. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  21. ^ K. Freudenberg & A.C. Nash (eds) (1968). Constitution and Biosynthesis of Lignin. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. 
  22. ^ Kuroda K, Ozawa T, Ueno T (April 2001). "Characterization of sago palm (Metroxylon sagu) lignin by analytical pyrolysis". J Agric Food Chem. 49 (4): 1840–7.  
  23. ^ J. Ralph; et al. (2001). "Elucidation of new structures in lignins of CAD- and COMT-deficient plants by NMR". Phytochem. 57 (6): 993–1003.  
  24. ^ Samuels AL, Rensing KH, Douglas CJ, Mansfield SD, Dharmawardhana DP, Ellis BE (November 2002). "Cellular machinery of wood production: differentiation of secondary xylem in Pinus contorta var. latifolia". Planta 216 (1): 72–82.  
  25. ^ Davin, L.B.; Lewis, N.G. (2005). "Lignin primary structures and dirigent sites". Current Opinion in Biotechnology 16 (4): 407–415.  
  26. ^ Carlile, Michael J.; Sarah C. Watkinson (1994). The Fungi.  
  27. ^ a b c d e Vane, C. H.; et al. (2003). "Biodegradation of Oak (Quercus alba) Wood during Growth of the Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes):  A Molecular Approach". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 51 (4): 947–956.  
  28. ^ a b c d e Vane, C. H.; et al. (2006). "Bark decay by the white-rot fungus Lentinula edodes: Polysaccharide loss, lignin resistance and the unmasking of suberin". International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation 57 (1): 14–23.  
  29. ^ Tien, M (1983). "Lignin-Degrading Enzyme from the Hymenomycete Phanerochaete chrysosporium Burds.". Science 221 (4611): 661.  
  30. ^ Wittkowski, Reiner; Ruther, Joachim; Drinda, Heike; Rafiei-Taghanaki, Foroozan "Formation of smoke flavor compounds by thermal lignin degradation" ACS Symposium Series (Flavor Precursors), 1992, volume 490, pp 232–243. ISBN 978-0-8412-1346-3.
  31. ^ Lignin production and detection in wood. John M. Harkin, U.S. Forest Service Research Note FPL-0148, November 1966 (article)
  32. ^ Lange, B. M.; Lapierre, C.; Sandermann, Jr (1995). "Elicitor-Induced Spruce Stress Lignin (Structural Similarity to Early Developmental Lignins)". Plant Physiology 108 (3): 1277–1287.  
  33. ^ Glasser, Wolfgang G.; Glasser, Heidemarie R. (1974). "Simulation of Reactions with Lignin by Computer (Simrel). II. A Model for Softwood Lignin". Holzforschung 28 (1): 5–11, 1974.  
  34. ^ Vane, C. H.; et al. (2001). "The effect of fungal decay (Agaricus bisporus) on wheat straw lignin using pyrolysis–GC–MS in the presence of tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH)". Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 60 (1): 69–78.  
  35. ^ a b Vane, C. H.; et al. (2001). "Degradation of Lignin in Wheat Straw during Growth of the Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) Using Off-line Thermochemolysis with Tetramethylammonium Hydroxide and Solid-State 13C NMR". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 49 (6): 2709–2716.  
  36. ^ a b Vane, C. H.; et al. (2005). "Decay of cultivated apricot wood (Prunus armeniaca) by the ascomycete Hypocrea sulphurea, using solid state 13C NMR and off-line TMAH thermochemolysis with GC–MS.". International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation 55 (3): 175–185.  


Solid state 13C NMR has been used to look at the concentrations of lignin, as well as other major components in wood e.g. cellulose, and how that changes with microbial decay.[27][28][35][36] Conventional solution-state NMR for lignin is possible. However, many intact lignins have a crosslinked, very high molar-mass fraction that is difficult to dissolve even for functionalization.

Thermochemolysis (chemical break down of a substance under vacuum and at high temperature) with tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) has also been used to analyse the ratios of lignols with fungal decay as well the ratio of the carboxylic acid (Ad) to aldehyde (Al) forms of the lignols (Ad/Al).[27][28] Increases in the (Ad/Al) value indicate an oxidative cleavage reaction has occurred on the alkyl lignin side chain which has been shown to be a step in the decay of wood by many white-rot and some soft rot fungi.[27][28][34][35][36]

Thioglycolysis is an analytical technique for lignin quantitation.[32] Lignin structure can also be studied by computational simulation.[33]

A solution of hydrochloric acid and phloroglucinol is used for the detection of lignin (Weisner test). A brilliant red color develops, owing to the presence of coniferaldehyde groups in the lignin.[31]

The conventional method for lignin quantitation in the pulp industry is the Klason lignin and acid-soluble lignin test, which is standardized according to SCAN or NREL procedure. The cellulose is first decrystallized and partially depolymerized into oligomers by keeping the sample in 72% sulfuric acid at 30 C for 1 h. Then, the acid is diluted to 4% by adding water, and the depolymerization is completed by either boiling (100 °C) for 4 h or pressure cooking at 2 bar (124 °C) for 1 h. The acid is washed out and the sample dried. The residue that remains is termed Klason lignin. A part of the lignin, acid-soluble lignin (ASL) dissolves in the acid. ASL is quantified by the intensity of its UV absorption peak at 280 nm. The method is suited for wood lignins, but not equally well for varied lignins from different sources. The carbohydrate composition may be also analyzed from the Klason liquors, although there may be sugar breakdown products (furan and hydroxymethylfuran).

Chemical analysis

Pyrolysis of lignin during the combustion of wood or charcoal production yields a range of products, of which the most characteristic ones are methoxy-substituted phenols. Of those, the most important are guaiacol and syringol and their derivatives; their presence can be used to trace a smoke source to a wood fire. In cooking, lignin in the form of hardwood is an important source of these two chemicals, which impart the characteristic aroma and taste to smoked foods such as barbecue. The main flavor compounds of smoked ham are guaiacol, and its 4-, 5-, and 6-methyl derivatives as well as 2,6-dimethylphenol. These compounds are produced by thermal breakdown of lignin in the wood used in the smokehouse.[30]


Lignin is degraded by micro-organisms including fungi and bacteria. Lignin peroxidase (also "ligninase", EC number 1.14.99) is a hemoprotein firstly isolated from the white-rot fungus Phanerochaete chrysosporium [29] with a variety of lignin-degrading reactions, all utilizing hydrogen peroxide as an oxygen source. Other microbial enzymes may be involved in lignin biodegradation, such as manganese peroxidase and the copper-based laccase.


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