Lignin is a common waste by-product produced from the biomass used by the paper-making industry, which is often discarded or burned as a source of heat. However, Lignin can be used to create valuable, non-toxic, bio-based feedstocks for use in a variety of chemical industry processes. Currently, almost all bio-based products are produced using the cellulose fraction of biomass, which represents ~35% of the total input biomass; the lignin portion is treated as waste. As a result, the total manufacturing costs of bio-based products derived from cellulose sources have remained too high to compete with petroleum-based equivalents. The utilisation of lignin for chemical and material production would offset these high costs of producing bio-based products. Thus, it will be key to the success of the bioeconomy.
Levoglucosenone is a versatile bio-based molecule that can be synthesised directly from lignocellulosic biomass. It is highly functionalised, meaning that there are many "handles" from which it can react, allowing its use as part of a wide range of potential downstream chemicals and products. Levoglucosenone has gained a lot of attention in recent years as the precursor to the bio-based solvent, Cyrene, which can replace various toxic solvents used to manufacture synthetic leathers, adhesives, cosmetics, surface coatings, pigments, and plastics, just to name a few.