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Scientists have had limited success in converting lignin, a structural component of plants, into high-value products. The discovery that lignin can be used as a wood glue could be a game-changer for biorefineries.
Writing in Nature, Yang et al.1 describe a remarkable strategy for making a wood adhesive from lignin — the extraordinary polymer that strengthens and binds together plant cells. Lignin waste streams (known as technical lignins), currently generated from wood pulp and paper production, are notoriously ineffective for making adhesives of the required performance and at the scale needed for manufacturing wood composites. Now, for the first time, a lignin waste stream can be used as a high-value feedstock for manufacturing wood adhesives and other products. Furthermore, the findings could pave the way for a new generation of integrated plant-processing biorefineries — facilities that process biomass, such as agricultural waste, trees and grasses, with high efficiency to produce renewable energy, chemicals and other products.