Plasma-Enabled Selective Synthesis of Biobased Phenolics from Lignin-Derived Feedstock

Ma, Yichen and Conroy, Stuart and Shaw, Alexander and Alliati, Ignacio M. and Sels, Bert F. and Zhang, Xiaolei and Tu, Xin (2023) Plasma-Enabled Selective Synthesis of Biobased Phenolics from Lignin-Derived Feedstock. JACS Au, 3 (11). 3101–3110. ISSN 2691-3704 (

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Converting abundant biomass-derived feedstocks into value-added platform chemicals has attracted increasing interest in biorefinery; however, the rigorous operating conditions that are required limit the commercialization of these processes. Nonthermal plasma-based electrification using intermittent renewable energy is an emerging alternative for sustainable next-generation chemical synthesis under mild conditions. Here, we report a hydrogen-free tunable plasma process for the selective conversion of lignin-derived anisole into phenolics with a high selectivity of 86.9% and an anisole conversion of 45.6% at 150 °C. The selectivity to alkylated chemicals can be tuned through control of the plasma alkylation process by changing specific energy input. The combined experimental and computational results reveal that the plasma generated H and CH3 radicals exhibit a “catalytic effect” that reduces the activation energy of the transalkylation reactions, enabling the selective anisole conversion at low temperatures. This work opens the way for the sustainable and selective production of phenolic chemicals from biomass-derived feedstocks under mild conditions.