Method for Producing Graphene from Lignin Awarded Patent

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Zhiyong Cai, with industrial and academic partners from Domtar Corporation and Mississippi State University, was granted a patent on June 2, 2020 for their method of synthesizing graphene from lignin.   

Zhiyong Cai – Supervisory Materials Research Engineer

Graphene is one of the most promising materials of the future. Its potential to be implemented in tech manufacturing is huge, from medicine to medical devices, electronics to batteries, environmental protection equipment to devices used for clean-energy, and more.

One barrier to realizing the vast capabilities of this material is finding a low-cost, largely available source for graphene. The ability to produce graphene from lignin, as the patent describes, breaks down that barrier.

“Lignin is a primary component of the plant cell wall in most terrestrial plants and the second most abundant biopolymer in nature,” explained Cai. A byproduct of the pulping and papermaking process, most lignin has been used as a low-value material for fueling power and heat. Cai and his collaborators’ process now provides a higher value use for lignin. Importantly, the synthesizing method is not just limited to lignin but can be used to produce graphene from other solid carbon resources as well, especially biomass.

This novel method of synthesizing graphene allows for high-volume production. Cai best explained this now patented process:

“Few-layer graphene materials are produced through a molecular cracking and welding (MCW) method. The MCW technique is a single step process with two stages, i.e., graphene-encapsulated core–shell nanoparticles are first formed by catalytic thermal treatment of solid carbon materials. Then these core–shell structures are opened by ‘cracking molecules’ in the second stage and the cracked graphene shells are self-welded and reconstructed to form high quality multilayer graphene materials at a heating temperature with selected welding reagent gases.”

The formation of a graphene-based material from graphene-encapsulated core–shell nanoparticles. (a) Graphene-encapsulated metal nanoparticles; (b) cracked core–shell nanoparticles; (c) graphene sheets

This new and innovative method has been proven “to be a scalable process for the production of low-cost, high-purity nanoscale graphene materials from renewable resources,” bringing the fabrication of tomorrow’s technologies one step closer.

To find out more about the amazing advancements our scientists are making, visit the Forest Products Laboratory at: https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/