Tandem catalytic depolymerization of lignin by water-tolerant Lewis acids and rhodium complexes

Robin Jastrzebski, Sandra E. Constant, Christopher S. Lancefield, Nicholas James Westwood, Bert M. Weckhuysen, Pieter C. A. Bruijnincx

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)


Lignin is an attractive renewable feedstock for aromatic bulk and fine chemicals production, provided that suitable depolymerization procedures are developed. Here, we describe a tandem catalysis strategy for ether linkage cleavage within lignin, involving ether hydrolysis by water-tolerant Lewis acids followed by aldehyde decarbonylation by a rhodium complex. In situ decarbonylation of the reactive aldehydes limits loss of monomers by recondensation, a major issue in acid-catalyzed lignin depolymerization. Rate of hydrolysis and decarbonylation were matched using lignin model compounds, allowing the method to be successfully applied to softwood, hardwood and herbaceous dioxasolv lignins as well as poplar sawdust to give the anticipated decarbonylation products, and, rather surprisingly, 4-(1-propenyl)phenols. Promisingly, product selectivity can be tuned by variation of Lewis acid strength and lignin source.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2074–2079
Issue number16
Early online date21 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2016


  • Biomass
  • Decarbonylation
  • Lewis acid
  • Lignin
  • Tandem catalysis


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