Published: Oct. 24, 2022 By

Will Medlin with the Boulder Flatirons in the backgroundProfessor Will Medlin, department chair of chemical and biological engineering, received a four-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation award to study new routes for converting biomass into renewable fuels and chemicals. The project, “Collaborative Research: ECO-CBET: Coupled Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Processes for an Environmentally Sustainable Lignin-first Biorefinery," involves a collaborative team of scientists from CU Boulder, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The researchers, who include experts in biomass processing, novel catalysts, reaction modeling, machine learning and life cycle assessment, will study how lignin, a natural recalcitrant polymer, can be broken down into individual molecules and how these molecules are converted by catalysts into stable fuels and materials precursors.

Medlin says the specific chemical route the team is studying involves a "so-called lignin first strategy,"  in which lignin, one of the most potentially valuable but least utilized components of biomass, is dissolved and processed to useful chemical compounds.