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Trends in Chemical Engineering   Volumes    Volume 21 
A process for producing vanillin and co-products from corn stover lignin
Wyatt Larson, Wayne Seames, Joshua Wilmer, Ian Foerster, Sara Pourjar, Ahmed Essam
Pages: 85 - 101
Number of pages: 17
Trends in Chemical Engineering
Volume 21 

Copyright © 2023 Research Trends. All rights reserved

A key strategy for combating global climate change is reducing the use of fossil carbon resources such as petroleum and coal. Fossil carbon is the primary raw material used in many fuels, chemicals, and polymeric materials and is also a primary raw material for the production of many food flavorants such as artificial vanilla. One potential replacement resource is lignin. Lignin is a large complex polymer with an abundance of cyclic groups making it a good candidate to produce chemicals that typically come from crude oil. However, the transformation of lignin into these compounds is a challenge, and processes to use lignin as a crude oil substitute have yet to be commercialized. Lignin is present in woods, grasses, and other lignocellulosic plants, including corn. Corn is North Dakota’s third most profitable crop and a popular crop throughout the world. Most of the corn’s stover is underutilized, making it a potentially cheap and renewable source of lignin. In this study, a novel process was developed based on a unique non-catalytic decomposition technology developed at the University of North Dakota to decompose lignin into valuable monomers that can be recovered and purified into valuable products. A preliminary design was completed at the process flow diagram level with a focus on the production of vanillin, a common and valuable flavorant, along with other useful co-products. The design was used to develop an American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE) Class 4 factored capital cost estimate and comparable operating costs and revenue estimates to evaluate process feasibility. At a commercial-scale design feed rate of 3,300 kg/hour of corn stover-derived lignin, the designed process has a projected net present value  at a hurdle rate of 20% (NPV@20%) of $51 million and a discounted cash flow rate of return (DCFROR) of 35%, indicating that it is likely to be commercially viable.
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