Reusing Lignin to Synthesize High Surface Area Carbon Nanoparticles

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Work by Pratim Biswas’s research group, along with collaborators from Washington University in St. Louis, demonstrates a promising gas phase aerosol technique to sustainably valorize lignin.  

Due to the rapidly growing demand for renewable energy and the use of portable devices, there is a requirement for the development of high-performance and sustainable energy storage solutions. Supercapacitors have emerged as a promising option for energy storage due to their high power density and excellent cyclic stability, establishing niche applications in hybrid electric vehicles and high-power electronic devices. High surface area (porous) carbon is one of the most widely used supercapacitor materials given its high electrical conductivity, low cost, chemical stability, and ability to be synthesized from renewable resources. Existing synthesis methods for high surface area carbons have limited environmental benignity and economic viability due to the requirement of multistep and batch processes and harsh activating and/or templating chemicals. Herein, we demonstrate the synthesis of high surface area carbon nanoparticles (CNPs) from lignin, a waste byproduct, through a single-step, continuous gas phase aerosol technique without the use of activating or templating chemicals. This continuous approach requires significantly less time for synthesis: on the order of seconds in comparison to hours for conventional methods. Overall, the simple (single-step, continuous, and rapid) operation and the avoidance of the use of activating/templating chemicals make the aerosol technique a promising candidate for the scalable and sustainable synthesis of CNPs from lignin.

This work was funded by a startup fund from the College of Engineering at the University of Miami. Sujit Modi acknowledges the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University in St. Louis for providing fellowship support.

Modi, S., Okonkwo, O., Saha, S., Foston, M. B., & Biswas, P. (2023). Reuse of Lignin to Synthesize High Surface Area Carbon Nanoparticles for Supercapacitors Using a Continuous and Single-Step Aerosol Method. ACS Nano, 17(17), 17048-17057.