Introduction


LiVCat will train early stage researchers in a highly collaborative, interdisciplinary, international and intersectorial research setting to equip them with a skillset that allows them to play a key role in the transition to a more sustainable, future chemical industry. Technology will be developed for the integral implementation of lignin into economically-viable biorefinery schemes. Full lignin-based value chains will cover: A) Upstream processing: Scalable, industrially-relevant methods for lignin depolymerisation through Catalytic Lignocellulose Fractionation (CLF) to obtain selected aromatic monomers in high yield; B) Downstream processing: Innovative catalysis for the diversification of lignin-derived monomers to industrially relevant building blocks (for polymers, fine chemicals and pharma). C) Full valorisation of residues: Adhering to the no-waste principle, new materials are generated supported by in-depth catalyst and lignin characterization.  Unlike common PhD programs, LiVCat targets complete value chain integration (from biomass to product) as strategy making use of industrial partners covering the whole value-chain. With catalysis as a key enabling technology, LiVCat offers a R&I and interdisciplinary training environment with excellence in sustainable catalysis and engineering. LiVCat research aims to build towards commercialisation with ESR involvement, providing a platform for methodology development to achieve the EU sustainability goals and enhance ESR employability. ESRs will develop and use online tools to standardise analytical procedures (LiV-eBest), and to assess sustainability (LiV-eGreen) and market potential (LiV-eTech) of the created value chains for use in outreach and entrepreneurship. This innovative training environment of LiVCat will impact EU Doctoral Training programs by serving as a model for how technology and personal skills development can aid implementation of innovation and sustainable transitions.

Hosting Partners

Acadamic host organisations

Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RUG), Groningen, The Netherlands; Green and Sustainable Chemistry group, Prof. K. Barta part of the Stratingh Institute for Chemistry and the Green Chemistry Reaction Engineering group, Dr. P.J. Deuss/Prof. H.J. Heeres part of The Engineering and Technology Institute Groningen (ENTEG)
Universiteit Utrecht (UU), Utrecht, The Netherlands; Prof. P.C.A. Bruijnincx Sustainable Chemistry & Catalysis of of the Organic Chemistry & Catalysis groups and Prof. B.M. Weckhuysen of The Inorganic Chemistry & Catalysis Group (ICC), Debye Institute of Nanomaterials Science at Utrecht University.
Rheinisch-Westfaelische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH), Aachen, Germany; Technical Chemistry and Petrochemistry Group, Prof. W. Leitner part of the Institut für Technische Chemie und Makromolekulare Chemie (ITMC)
Leibniz Institut für Katalyse e. V. (LIKAT), Rostock, Germany; Catalysis with renewable resources department, Prof. J.G. de Vries/Dr. S. Hinze and Bioinspired Homo- & Heterogeneous Catalysis, Prof. P. C. J. Kamer.
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL), Leuven, Belgium; Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis (COK), Prof. B.F. Sels/Dr/ B. Lagrain/Dr. W. Schutyser
Stockholm University (SU), Stockholm, Sweden; Department of Organic Chemistry, Prof. J.S.M. Samec
Universidad de Cordoba (UCO), Cordobe, Spain; Nanoscale Chemistry and Biomass Valorisation group, Prof. R. Luque/Prof. A.A. Romero/Dr. A.M. Balu as part of the department of Organic Chemistry
Karl Franzens Universität Graz (KFU), Graz, Austria; ElkGroup for Biocatalysis, Prof. W. Kroutil/J. Schrittweiser/Dr. M. Fuchs

University of St. Andrews (USTAN), St. Andrews, Scotland, United Kingdom; School of Chemstry, Prof. A.D. Smith

Industrial host organisations:

Sappi Fine Paper Europe (SFPE), lead European producer of coated fine paper used in premium magazines, catalogues, books and high-end print advertising. Sappi’s biorefierny competence centre Gratkorn, Dr. H. Weber/Dr. A. K. Mahler
RenFuel K2B AB (RF) developer of patented techniques to valorize lignin residues, Uppsala, Sweden; Dr. J.S.M. Samec/Dr. J. Löfstedt/Dr. J. Verendel/Dr. C.Dahlstrand
BioBTX developer of efficient and effective technologies for the production of biobased BTX (the molecules benzene, toluene and xylene) as well as bio-oil, Groningen, Dr. A. Heeres

Other partners supporting the research and training program:

Avantium (AVA) worldwide leader (Cleantech Top 100 Company) in high throughput technology and catalytic biomass conversion, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Dr. J. Singh/Dr. A. Jongerius

Coverstro (CV) leading global polymer producer in the segments of polyurethanes and polycarbonates. Global competence centre, Antwerpen, Belgium; Dr. N. Meine/Dr. J. Heijl

Bumaga BV (BUM), a subsidiary of Kenniscentrum Papier en Karton (KCPK, Centre of Competence Paper and Board) Arnhem, The Netherlands; Drs. A. Hooijmeijer/Ir. M. Adriaanse

Drochaid Research Services Ltd (DRS) is a newly established SME, that emerged from the closure of the Sasol UK laboratories in St Andrews retaining key personnel and equipment. Prof. R. Tooze/Dr. H. van Rensburg/Dr. P. Webb/Dr. P. Landon/Dr. D. Smith

BASF, the world’s leading chemical company: Heereveen site producer of waterborne binders for Printing and Packaging applications, Dr. G. Metselaar

Recipharm (REC), a leading contract development and manufacturing organisation, focussed on supporting pharmaceutical companies in taking their products from early development through to commercial manufacturing. Recipharm OT Chemistry, Uppsala, Sweden; Dr. M.Nilsson

BTG Biomass Technology Group BV is a private company (SME) of consultants, researchers and engineers specialised in the sustainable energy production from biomass and waste. Dr.ir. B. van de Beld

The research Challenge


The chemical industry currently heavily relies on finite fossil resources which are unevenly distributed worldwide. Additionally, their use leads to an increased level of carbon-dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere. Therefore, there is a pressing need to move away from our dependence on fossil resources and switch to renewable alternatives. This will ensure resource security for the future chemical industry and will result in economic and societal benefits. This is recognised by the European Commission and firm policies are in place to stimulate sustainability and the circular economy, which includes bio-based products and the valorisation of waste.

Lignocellulose is the most abundant and globally accessible renewable carbon feedstock that is well distributed over the globe. In particular, lignocellulose waste streams from the agricultural, forestry and food industry are an attractive raw material as they do not compete with food and feed and their production potential matches the estimated industrial demand, especially for the production of valuable chemical building blocks.

Any new technology developed for the conversion of renewable lignocellulose needs to compete with already established, conventional petrochemical pathways. Therefore, it is essential to achieve I) energy-efficient and highly selective conversion of the raw material to target products II) maximum carbon utilization and III) the total value extracted from all components should be maximized. The current proposal will address these points, focusing on the lignin component.

In analogy to the petrochemical refinery, in a biorefinery, lignocellulose is fractionated to its main components: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin (Figure 1), which should be further converted. To establish economically feasible biorefineries, all components should be valorized. However, one of the greatest bottlenecks towards establishing this is the valorization of lignin, which makes up to 35% of lignocellulose. Lignin is an aromatic biopolymer with particularly robust structure and its chemo-catalytic conversion is a real challenge. This challenge calls for novel and creative solutions, novel catalytic methods and mechanistic insights. The LiVCat team has already shown recent progress in this area and the current proposal will build on these very promising results. LiVCat will address a significant hurdle hindering the implementation of lignocellulose based biomass waste streams as resource: the valorization of lignin (Figure 1).

The Training program


The chemical industry sector has a great demand for creative and highly skilled young scientists specially trained in sustainable and green chemistry and renewables. The overall training goal of LiVCat is to provide ESR with skills that enhance their employability. LiVCat provides a comprehensive scientific program which does not exist in this format in current PhD training program. The program consists of excellence in catalysis research, innovative analytic standardization activities, awareness in sustainability and green chemistry (LiV-eGreen), entrepreneurship and market opportunities (LiV-eTech), transferable (Soft) skills, exchange program.

Contact

Programme Coordinators:

Prof. Katalin Barta, associate Professor Green and Sustainable Chemistry, Stratingh Institute for Chemistry, Rijkuniversiteit Groningen (RUG), k.barta@rug.nl
Dr. Peter J. Deuss, Assistant Professor Smart and Green Biomass Processing, Engineering and Technology Institute Groningen (ENTEG), Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RUG), p.j.deuss@rug.nl.