Enhanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts from Catalytic Conversion of Lignin by Methane Utilization

Interdisciplinary Areas: Power, Energy, and the Environment

Project Description

Among the resources for second-generation biofuels, lignin is the second-most abundant, contributing as much as 30% of the weight and 40% of the energy content of lignocellulosic biomass. Methane is the primary constituent of natural gas (>95%) and of shale gas (∼70%). Owing to its vast availability, methane (current natural gas price $150/ton) is much cheaper than hydrogen (currently $2,500/ton), which must be manufactured. In the proposed work, based on our prior related work, by using methane instead of hydrogen, we plan to convert lignin to upgraded bio-fuels and valuable chemical co-products with a lower cost and the same or higher yield of products. Two processes, catalytically converting lignin to upgraded hydrocarbon fuels and high-value added chemical co-products will be developed. We have developed technology for the manipulation of lignin abundance, subunit composition, side-chain chemistry, and overall polymer architecture in model systems and have successfully deployed it to develop lignin-modified poplar trees. These “designer lignins” provide the opportunity to tailor biomass input characteristics to desired output chemistry, generating a diverse portfolio of fuels and co-products. Successful completion of the proposed project will utilize lignin biomass resources and natural/shale gas in the U.S. to provide renewable biofuels and value-added chemical co-products.

Start Date

June 1, 2019

Postdoc Qualifications

Creative and diligent; Self-motivated; Outstanding publication record; Ability to work in a research team; Interest in pursuing an academic career 


Arvind Varma, R. Games Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, avarma@purdue.edu, https://engineering.purdue.edu/ChE/People/ptProfile?id=11068

Clint Chapple, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry, chapple@purdue.edu, https://ag.purdue.edu/biochem/Pages/Profile.aspx?strAlias=chapple&intDirDeptID=9 


1. Y. Xiao and A. Varma, ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 3, 2606–2610 (2015)

2. Y. Xiao and A. Varma, React. Chem. Eng., 2, 36-43 (2017). 
3. N. D. Bonawitz, J. I. Kim, Y. Tobimatsu, P. N. Ciesielski, N. A. Anderson, E. Ximenes, J. Maeda, J. Ralph, B. S. Donohoe, M. Ladisch, and C. Chapple, Nature 509, 376-380 (2014)
4. N. A. Anderson, Y. Tobimatsu, P. N. Ciesielski, E. Ximenes, J. Ralph, B. S. Donohoe, M. Ladisch, and C. Chapple, Plant Cell 27, 2195-2209 (2015)
5. S. D. Mansfield, K.-Y. Kang, and C. Chapple. New Phytol. 194, 91-101 (2012)