Office for Technology Commercialization

Thermoplastics with Very High Lignin Content

Technology #20180291

Questions about this technology? Ask a Technology Manager

Download Printable PDF

Image Gallery
How lignin polymer is formedLignin-based plastic
Simo Sarkanen, PhD
Professor, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
External Link (
Managed By
Larry Micek
Technology Licensing Officer 612-624-9568
Patent Protection

Provisional Patent Application Filed

Next-generation plastics with very high lignin content

Next-generation lignin-based plastics with very high concentrations of lignin possess tensile strength rivaling that of polyethylene. The formulations are based on 85-100% w/w levels of kraft lignin and other lignin sources such as softwood (pine) kraft lignin, hardwood (maple) and softwood (pine) ball-milled lignin as well as lignin extracted using a green solvent (gamma valerolactone). The method forms lignin plastics that may have a tensile strength of 20 MPa and/or a tensile elongation at break of 1.5%. Without derivatization or fractionation, native lignin and co-product lignins from lignocellulosic biorefineries and pulp mills can now be readily converted—at 90-100 wt% levels—into plastics with good mechanical properties.

Superior composition and mechanical properties

Lignin, a plant based byproduct derived from wood and other biomass, is produced in excess during the paper pulping process. It is often burned as fuel value. Other lignin sources include crop field residues such as corn stover, wheat straw and other lignocellulosic materials. Creating high value materials—especially polymers from lignin—has been a challenge for decades. These new lignin-based plastic formulations are simple and can dramatically improve the economic viability of biorefineries. The novel process converts underutilized co-product into biodegradable thermoplastics that could replace polyethylene in some applications. With 90-100 wt% lignin levels, these plastics supersede all previous lignin-containing materials in terms of total composition of lignin and mechanical properties.

Phase of Development

  • Proof of concept


  • Simple process to create polymers
  • Converts otherwise underutilized lignin and lignocellulose into biodegradable thermoplastics
  • Could dramatically improve economic viability of biorefineries


  • Very high concentrations of lignin (90-100 wt%)
  • Tensile strengths similar to polyethylene
  • Good mechanical properties
  • Adaptable to compounding with other polymers


  • Lignin-based polymers/plastics
  • Petrochemical-sourced polyethylene or polystyrene replacements (i.e., thermoplastics or foams)
  • Paints/coatings

Interested in Licensing?
The University relies on industry partners to further develop and ultimately commercialize this technology. The license is for the sale, manufacture or use of products claimed by the patents. Please contact Larry Micek to share your business needs and licensing and technical interests in this technology.