Life cycle assessment of kraft lignin for polymer applications

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Journal titleThe International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Pages520528; # of pages: 9
SubjectLignin; Kraft pulping; life cycle inventory; physical allocation
AbstractPurpose: Lignin is a by-product of wood pulping that is normally used as fuel on-site (black liquor), but also has some applications in the field of new biomaterials. This study focuses on the life cycle inventory of lignin originating from the kraft pulping process, for polymer applications. The system boundary includes lignin precipitation from black liquor, washing, and drying, but excludes subsequent application-specific compatibilization modifications. Lignin transportation is considered to rely exclusively on trucking. Methods: This work is based on the ecoinvent v2.2 database and the IMPACT 2002+ impact assessment method. Special attention is given to the net effect of lignin precipitation on the mass and energy balances of the kraft process. Because the kraft black liquor supply will far exceed the demand for non-fuel uses for the foreseeable future, it is considered appropriate to use either the marginal variation method of physical allocation or a system boundary expansion. Consequently, the system boundary includes natural gas as a substitute fuel (when applicable) but excludes wood harvesting and the pulping process. Results and discussion: The main impacts of kraft lignin come from the natural gas subsystem (fuel substitution and drying) despite a significantly cleaner combustion than for black liquor. Other significant contributors include the production of carbon dioxide for precipitation, sulfuric acid for washing, and sodium hydroxide to make up for sodium losses, all of which have some improvement potential. Conclusions: The environmental profile of kraft lignin tends to be preferable to synthetic organic compounds of similar molecular complexity because its initial transformation chain is relatively energy efficient. It is thus an environmentally sound choice for polymer applications as long as nearunity substitution ratios can be achieved without requiring compatibilization modifications that are too environmentally intensive and without affecting other stages of the product life cycle. In particular, the end-of-life performance depends on long-term lignin sequestration.
AffiliationNational Research Council Canada; Aquatic and Crop Resource Development
Peer reviewedYes
NRC number55024
NPARC number21268418
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Record identifier62767fb5-7627-4733-97e4-be305abc7625
Record created2013-07-10
Record modified2016-05-09
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