Focus on a Sustainable Future: Mercer Rosenthal’s Investment in Lignin Technology

In August 2023, our LignoBoost XS pilot plant was commissioned in Rosenthal, Germany. The pilot plant is the only one of its kind in Europe and has a production capacity of one tonne of kraft lignin per day. However, this is only a very small amount of the total lignin that is available at Mercer Rosenthal.

Lignin is a very promising biopolymer produced in pulp mills in huge quantities. Until now, it has mainly been burned for the production of bioenergy. With the commissioning of the Lignin Center, the first step has been taken to use this highly interesting biopolymer not just for energy production but also as a biomaterial. 

Lignin can replace fossil-based materials in products such as resins, adhesives, batteries, carbon fibers, and thermoplastics.  

After a brief commissioning phase, kraft lignin can be produced in the desired quality and quantity on a daily basis. Dr. Lars Gabriel, manager of the Lignin Center and manager of research and development, supervised the construction and commissioning. “The more we learn about the lignin extraction process, the more we realize its potential and versatility,” says Dr. Gabriel. 

The pilot plant is perfectly suitable to exploit the full potential of kraft lignin and raise it as high as possible in the value chain. Through altering the process parameters, the properties of the lignin can be specifically adjusted. Additionally, chemicals can be added during the process to increase the reactivity of lignin. The pilot plant paves the way for producing a type of kraft lignin that has properties already perfectly adjusted to a specific product.  

The advantage of the LignoBoost XS pilot plant is its small size. It is small enough that experiments can be done at a pilot scale without negatively affecting the pulp mill’s chemical recovery, but big enough to produce significant amounts of lignin. 

Product development at the Lignin Center has only just begun, but there is already a large interest in lignin from industry and academia. Collaborations are ongoing in many different fields of applications, and the results obtained at laboratory and pilot scales are very promising. 

The pilot plant can be used to determine which of the possible products Mercer’s kraft lignin is best suited to. Extensions to the plant can then be considered to test the first production steps towards high-value lignin products. At the same time, applications are sought that require less development work but still justify the construction of an industrial plant. 

If product development is successful, the aim is to build an industrial plant within the next five years.