Lignin is the substance that grants plants their typical “woody” structure. Most plants, if not all, contain lignin in varying proportions. The distribution and type of lignin may also vary among parts of the same plant, including leaves, branches, shoots, roots, and trunk, as well as among plants of different species.
Lignin finds numerous applications in a number of different fields. While the list of new applications of lignin is growing every day, the following are some of the most common and important applications of lignin today:
- In Cement/Concrete: Lignin and modified lignin are used due to their property of aiding the performance and strength of concrete. Sulfonated lignin is known to impart zeta potential and higher adsorption properties to cement particles, furnishing the cement matrix with better dispersion effect. Some varieties of lignin are also known to improve the compressive strength of cement.
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- In Asphalt: Lignin is known to improve the water stability of an asphalt mixture. A typical crack-filling composition for asphalt roads also contains modified lignin for added strength.
- As a Binder: Owing to lignin’s ability to bind materials, it finds applications in preparing insulation boards, floor tile pastes, and even animal feed pellets (upto 4% lignin is allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration). Binders made by combining grafted lignin and resin make for a low-cost material with reasonable wet strength for binding a variety of boards such as fiber insulation boards, fiberboards, particleboards, etc.
- As Antioxidants: Lignin’s natural ability to act as a free radical scavenger makes it an excellent antioxidant and leads to its widespread use in tropical formulations and cosmetic products.
- In the Paper Industry: Lignin is a commonly used sizing agent, a substance that imparts properties like printability and water resistance to the material it is applied to, in the paper industry.
- As Sequestering Agent: Sulphonates of lignin are strong sequestering agents, i.e. they can trap certain metal ions and keep them in a soluble state. This property makes them useful in the treatment of poor soils, either to add deficient minerals or to remove harmful ones. Owing to this property, lignin is also used in metallurgy to improve separation during floating of ores or tabling and in slime control.
Market Dynamics and Global Demand:
A recent Transparency Market Research report covering the global lignin market states that the market had a net valuation of US$782.3 million in 2014. The market is expected to observe positive, albeit modest, growth at a CAGR of 2.7% between 2015 and 2023. Volume-wise, the demand for lignin stood at 1,115.4 kilo tons in 2014.
Demand is expected to rise chiefly owing to the rising set of niche applications of lignin and development of the industrial sector in Asia Pacific. Of the key applications of lignin studied in the report, the segment of concrete additives dominated demand and held nearly 45% of the global lignin market in 2014.
The report states that the numerous uses of lignin as dispersant, emulsifying agent, and binder continue to attract the attention of product manufacturers in a number of end-use industries. As such, Asia Pacific, the region observing a huge surge in the industrial field, is becoming an increasingly lucrative market for the global lignin industry. Of the key types of modified lignin products studied in the report, the demand for lignosulfonates is the highest in numerous end-use industries, especially in the construction industry.
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