Looking at Superior Lignin

Sonichem Lignin resin extracted from sawdust

Looking at lignin in a new light

It’s well known in the biorefinery community that lignin is an untapped renewable resource of useful chemical building blocks, but creating value out of this incredibly long polymer has, until now, been a chemist’s nightmare. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a more manageable lignin preparation to start with? Read on to learn about the low molecular weight option that Sonichem’s ultrasonics can conjure up.

Lyrical about lignin

First of all, let’s dig a little deeper into lignin. One thing for sure is that it’s abundant, making up around 15 to 30 % of the dry weight of plant cell walls 1. On top of that, it’s a non-toxic, renewable and biodegradable source of small aromatic compounds that could potentially replace many fossil fuel-derived chemicals in the high value materials, coatings, cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical industries. In 2019 alone, the global lignin market was valued at an astounding figure of over $900 million, and it is expected to continue growing.2

A little lignin goes a long way

However, looking more closely at the current pipelines feeding into lignin production, it’s clear that industries are not making the most out of this natural polymer, and many higher value applications are being overlooked. For example, the pulp and paper industry generates over 50 million tons of what is termed ‘Kraft lignin’ every year, but most of this is burnt as low value fuel – causing serious environmental pollution – and only 2 % goes on to create high value chemicals.3 This is largely because Kraft lignin is hard to process, a stumbling block that is preventing it being used to make materials such as carbon fibres, phenolic resins, binding and dispersing agents, vanillin, cement additives and more.4

The lingering problem with bulk lignin   

The processing challenges associated with Kraft lignin include huge and variable molecular weights, low reactivity, poor solubility in common solvents, and 2-3 % sulfur levels that severely limit its use.5 This means that a tedious series of steps is required – known as ‘lignin upgrade’ – to break up the long polymers into lower molecular weight monomers and oligomers, improve the reactivity and solubility by chemical modification, and remove any sulfur. This complex and unwieldy process uses up energy and produces waste, and is neither economical nor practical for dealing with high volumes, but this is where Sonichem’s ultrasonic processing technology fits in.

This is not just lignin, this is Sonichem's superior lignin.

Sonichem’s proprietary ultrasonic process break the chemical bonds in long lignin polymers, resulting in a novel alternative that has an exceptionally low molecular weight of 1,000 gmol-1 – four times smaller than typical Kraft preparations – enhanced reactivity, is soluble in a range of common solvents including ethanol, and is sulfur-free. This ground-breaking technology has unleashed the true potential of a natural asset; the resulting superior lignin can be processed with greater ease into a seemingly endless list of materials, resins, coatings and chemical additives, giving them hydrophobic, UV blocking, flame retardant and antimicrobial properties, and, ultimately, offering chemists a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.


  1. Higuchi T, Chang HM, Kirk TK. Recent advances in lignin biodegradation research. Published online 1983.
  2. Lignin Market Size & Share | Industry Report, 2020-2027. Accessed January 25, 2023. https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/lignin-market
  3. Dexter GN, Navas LE, Grigg JC, et al. Bacterial catabolism of acetovanillone, a lignin-derived compound. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022;119(43):e2213450119. doi:10.1073/PNAS.2213450119/SUPPL_FILE/PNAS.2213450119.SAPP.PDF
  4. Sinha AK, Sharma UK, Sharma N. A comprehensive review on vanilla flavor: Extraction, isolation and quantification of vanillin and others constituents. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2008;59(4):299-326. doi:10.1080/09687630701539350
  5. Evdokimov AN, Kurzin A v., Fedorova O v., Lukanin P v., Kazakov VG, Trifonova AD. Desulfurization of kraft lignin. Wood Sci Technol. 2018;52(4):1165-1174. doi:10.1007/S00226-018-1014-1/METRICS

Hiring a Project Manager

Project Manager Role

We are looking for an experienced Project Manager to be responsible for leading project management for the design and delivery for our First-Of-A-Kind Commercial Plant (FOAK CP) and projects involving the expansion and development of the Sonichem (previously known as Bio-Sep) Pilot Plant Facility located at Melton Mowbray.

Reporting to the Principal Process Engineer, you will provide the technical leadership for project management and be the focal point for all engineering projects.

Sonichem (previously Bio-Sep) is a clean technology company based in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. We have developed a patented sustainable, ultrasonic biorefining technology that transforms woody biomass, the by-product of forestry and agriculture, into high value bio-based chemicals with a wide range of applications. This is a fantastic opportunity to join an organisation with ambitious plans in the sustainable biorefining sector.

Why Sonichem (previously Bio-Sep)

Innovation: Be a part of cutting-edge technology development that is shaping the future of sustainable bio-based chemicals.

Growth Opportunities: Join a team with ambitious plans in the sustainable biorefining sector.

Supportive Environment: Collaborate with an enthusiastic, diverse and skilled team committed to excellence.

Bio-Sep is not just a company; it’s a vision for a greener future. If you are a dynamic, adaptable, analytical thinker with a passion for driving projects to success, we want to hear from you.

Key Responsibilities

Work closely with the Principal Process Engineer to ensure the highest calibre of technical and commercial delivery on all projects, and to help and support the Principal Process Engineer as required.

Develop and implement an in-house Engineering Project Management System based on best practices and industry standards.

Develop a project excellence model to ensure consistently excellent project delivery for the company including project management based KPIs.

Act as the focal point and lead with Engineering Contractors, Original Equipment Manufacturers, Engineering Design Contractors and EPCs.

Support the Principal Process Engineer in the pre-feasibilty and concept phase of the FOAK CP and preparation of the documentation suite for tendering the FEED and EPC.

Be the key lead in determining the tender/contract strategy for the EPC contracting award for the FOAK CP including the scoring and evaluation of submitted bids.

Develop, agree and approve the project management strategy with the potential EPC Company for delivery of the FOAK CP. Ensuring the supply chain is fit for purpose, selection of competent and reliable suppliers, elimination of single points of failure and systems are in place to monitor and record supplier performance.

Be the project management lead for grant funded collaborative R&D projects ensuring compliance to funding requirements.

Ensure company financial controls are adhered to across all sanctioned projects.

Ensure project deliverables are completed and presented in a professional manner, to include quality of information, written, drawn and verbal.

Support the executive team in research grant applications.

Support the CEO in business and investment project management activities.


You will be qualified in a relevant Engineering and/or Project Management discipline.

Professional qualification with relevant engineering and/or project management bod

Circa 10 years’ experience gained in an engineering project management environment, ideally with an EPC or projects department in the process industry.

Competent and experienced in using MS Project.

Experience of managing grant-funded projects and their reporting requirements is desirable.

This role allows for a hybrid working arrangement.

Please apply via our Linkedin application process or send an email with your CV and a cover letter to info@sonichem.com