The SElectiveLI project was set up by the EU and an industrial consortium and is being funded through the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking Public-Private-Partnership (BBI‑JU). The project was launched on May 1st, 2019. Over three years, EUR 2.9 million will be provided to reach an ambitious goal: Working together with eight European partners, the aim is to show how lignosulfonate, can be used to produce valuable 'green' compounds and act as a source of chemicals for the production of bio-based, low-burden plastics.

Bio-based industries are central to building a European circular economy. Meanwhile, using Europe’s own biomass resources improves raw material security by reducing reliance on fossil-based feedstock imports. However, extracting higher-value compounds from lignin (a by-product of paper and pulp production), one of the most important low-cost feedstocks, is currently inefficient and expensive. The SElectiveLi project will address this challenge by using electrochemical processes that take advantage of surplus energy available via smart grids. This should reduce the cost of production as well as enhance the qualitity of the output product, making it competitive in the chemicals market.

In SElectiveLI, electrochemistry serves in various applications, including the conversion of lignin into valuable chemicals. Paper production generates a considerable amount of lignin as a by-product: 50 million tons per year. Up to date, the challenging chemical properties of this unique bio-derived structure leads to its primary use as combustible material to generate thermal energy. However, lignin is packed with basic compounds that are envisaged to be used in the manufacture of bio-based polymers, adhesives, vanillin, and other major commodity chemicals. Another aim of the project is to facilitate the complex process required for the separation of the target compounds from the reaction mixture obtained from the electrochemical depolymerization process. Further motivations are the development of an inexpensive way to render bisphenol A obsolete in the future and investigating a process that makes the use of renewable energy as a power source for electrochemistry feasible. This is expected to increase overall process sustainability, as the electrochemistry can, unlike standard reactor designs, be easily modulated according to the availability of renewable energy. In addition, a source of renewable material that will not be competing with food production is exploited. SElectiveli also wants to demonstrate the possibility to reduce environmental impacts resulting from the industrial process. Rendering these processes as environmentally friendly as possible, the extraction of valuable compounds is improved by reducing the water consumption and by using non-toxic materials to facilitate reactions. The renewable energy which feeds the process will tackle down greenhouse gas emission, thus improving the overall environmental impact of the value chain. These new approaches will help to create and preserve numerous jobs and companies in Europe, becoming leaders in renewable energy sources to help decarbonisation of industrial chemical production.

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