Lignin is a potential renewable raw material for synthesis of aromatic molecules and materials. Particularly, Kraft-type lignins are abundantly available as a byproduct of wood and paper industries. Currently, there are practically no valuable products made using this highly complex polymer. Within this work, we have investigated the straightforward, high-yield depolymerization of two different technical lignins (Indulin AT and alkaline lignin) using only a mixture of green short-chain (C-1-C-3) alcohols and water as solvents. As shown here, at a temperature of 220 degrees C, autogenous pressure, and isopropanol/water as a co-solvent medium, it is possible to cleave Kraft lignin without char-forming side reactions. The obtained so-called "light" oil contains guaiacol-based monomeric units of 23 wt % yield together with liquid oligomers of 13 wt % yield combining liquid-liquid and solid-liquid extraction. Two-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance analysis of lignin residues showed that the isopropanol/water treatment caused a marked breakdown of the intermolecular beta-O-4 and beta-beta bonds; thus, the depolymerization produced monomers and lignin residues with lower molecular weight. The results suggested a synergistic effect between isopropanol and water. No sign of repolymerization reactions could be observed with this process.
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