Auckland, New Zealand - A research group in New Zealand said 12 July that it has developed natural lignin as a raw material for expanded polyurethane foam.
The lignin is extracted from shrubby willow, grown by Genesis Research and Development Corp. Ltd's subsidiary BioJoule. Genesis said Biojoule's lignin has been tested in foam formulations by a potential international customer and given "excellent results" in crucial foam properties such as thermal conductivity and density. This customer is interested in purchasing commercial quantities - at a price that is consistent with the economic modelling developed by BioJoule - the company added. Biojoule has made initial samples of lignin in a pilot-scale process, but with further funding aims to build a larger unit to allow it to optimise process design and operating parameters, before constructing a commercial refinery.
"The production of urethane foam shows the potential to manufacture 'green' plastics from shrubby willow that is sustainably produced in coppicable plantations," said BioJoule managing director, Dr Jim Watson, in the Genesis statement. This has the potential to reduce the need for petrochemicals in polyurethane production, thus improving the carbon footprint, according to Genesis. Genesis revealed no details of what treatment the lignin needs to make it suitable as a polyol for PU foam, or what type of foam the lignin has been used to make."The use of Salix [willow] which has a very high energy capture and conversion balance, and the production of multiple high-value products, is expected to create a much more economic biofuel business than using food grade corn to produce ethanol alone," Watson continued. The US has a focus on the latter process for making fuels from bio-products. epw"