Sonichem Leads £600K Funded Consortium for Sustainable Automotive Materials

CARMA - a consortium led by Sonichem to make bio-based automotive resins materials

Sonichem is leading a £600K Innovate UK-funded consortium to revolutionise the automotive industry with sustainable, bio-based materials.

It’s no secret that the transport sector is under significant pressure to decarbonise. This means that sustainable fuel substitutes and anti-pollution directives are understandably high up on the agenda for many vehicle manufacturers, and advances in these areas frequently appear at the top of our newsfeeds. However, it’s less well known that leaders in the industry are also actively seeking alternative methods of plastic and foam production that will enable them to meet the increasing demand for new vehicles while achieving net-zero environmental targets. Plastics have been used for an ever-increasing number of vehicle components over the last few decades – from dashboards, bodywork and seating to battery packs, fixings and thermal management systems in the latest electric vehicles – and typically account for 50 per cent of total car volume today. Unfortunately, the global transport sector generates over 350 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, since the majority of this plastic content is not recovered from end-of-life vehicles (1) and instead enters landfill or is incinerated, representing a significant environmental threat.

Decarbonising Transport: The Urgent Shift to Sustainable Automotive Materials

One emerging solution to this problem is biorefining, which offers a method of processing low-carbon feedstocks – such as lignin – into intermediate chemicals that can be made into renewable plastics for vehicles, replacing fossil-derived chemicals and helping to lower the carbon emissions of automotive production. Lignin is the world’s second-most abundant natural biopolymer (2) and presents a plentiful alternative to the finite, conventional petrochemical-based feedstocks currently used to produce plastics, resins and composites for the automotive industry. 

However, traditional biorefining technologies are not achieving their full potential, as they are inefficient, and produce degraded and chemically altered lignin, discouraging uptake for performance applications. Most of these methods also use energy-intensive processes, generating greenhouse gas emissions and, ironically, making them environmentally unsustainable. Commercial-scale biopolymer manufacturers produce low-grade lignin of high molecular weight, which limits their suitability for industrial applications (3) and the small number of UK-based suppliers for these carbon-efficient feedstocks is forcing manufacturers to import raw materials from abroad at higher price points.

Ultrasonic Biorefining: Unleashing High-Quality, Low Molecular Weight Lignin for Advanced Resin Applications

The challenges facing biorefining in the UK are what prompted us to develop a novel ultrasonic processing technology, Sonichem. Our unique patented technique uses ultrasound to fractionate woody biomass into hemicellulose sugars, microcrystalline cellulose and lignin, which can then be used as low-carbon feedstocks for platform chemicals used in a range of applications including pharmaceuticals, food and drink, cosmetics and, of course, vehicles. Our award-winning process efficiently extracts high-quality, low molecular weight lignin from UK-sourced Sitka spruce biomass, sawdust that is generated as a by-product of forestry operations, and denotes a major advance in biorefining. Our lignin is also highly soluble in organic solvents, sulfur free, highly reactive and resistant to antioxidants and UV, making it extremely versatile.

Sonichem’s CARMA Project: Leading the Charge in Net-Zero Automotive Materials

This game-changing technology is laying the groundwork for the shift away from current energy- and resource-intensive bioprocessing and chemical manufacturing approaches. In recognition of this, we have recently embarked on our groundbreaking CARMA – carbon-neutral agroforestry-derived resins to materials for automotive applications – project, in collaboration with an international consortium of industry leaders. Our consortium has been awarded almost £600,000 in funding through Innovate UK’s ‘Resource efficiency for materials and manufacturing’ (REforMM) collaborative research and development competition. The grant will cover over 70 per cent of the total estimated costs for this project, with the remaining amount being funded by several members of the consortium. Having substantial financial support will allow our multidisciplinary group of stakeholders to develop and commercialise bio-based feedstocks for the transport industry, with the aim of establishing a one-of-a-kind, resilient lignin supply chain within the UK that will support net-zero vehicle manufacturing. 

CARMA will be undertaken jointly with the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), Scott Bader, the National Composites Centre (NCC), Polestar and SHD Composites, with each party bringing their own extensive expertise and technical knowledge to the table. CPI will support the optimisation and commercial scale-up of our existing Sonichem pilot plant, enabling us to establish a financially viable and consistent supply of lignin for the resin and composite manufacturing sector. Scott Bader will explore the use of this lignin feedstock in existing technology platforms, and will work with NCC, Polestar and SHD Composites to develop and test cost-effective and high-performance bio-derived resin formulations for automotive applications.

From Biomass to Bio-Based Resins: Sonichem’s Role in Reshaping the Automotive Sector

The CARMA project commenced in October 2023, to apply our proprietary Sonichem technology to automotive manufacturing as a first use case. We’re hopeful that this collaborative project will raise awareness of our promising technology, and create a route to the automotive materials market for our lignin and highlight its potential to decarbonise many industries. The partnership with several prestigious companies may also encourage cooperation with additional commercial players across multiple industries in the future, and will likely stimulate significant investment in the UK bioeconomy. We’re very much looking forward to what the next few years will bring for our trailblazing biorefining technique, so watch this space to keep up to date with our journey, every step of the way. 


1 Oakdene Hollins. 2021. Driving change: a circular economy for automotive plastic. 

2 Boerjan W, Ralph J, and Baucher M. 2003. Lignin Biosynthesis. Annual Review of Plant Biology, 54(1): 519–546.

3 Mariana M, et al. 2021. A current advancement on the role of lignin as sustainable reinforcement material in biopolymeric blends. Journal of Materials Research and Technology, 15:2287–2316.

Leading the ripples of change

Adrian Black and Sonichem's executive team

Leading the ripples of change: Adrian Black’s journey from coding to cleantech

Sonichem was founded in 2007, and the company has been riding the waves of innovation and sustainability ever since. We have successfully overcome typical growth challenges, from building a dedicated operations team, making our technology scalable and developing a functioning pilot plant, and we are now seeking further investment, including a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs,  to help make our future ambitions a reality. To the average investor, Sonichem’s success may appear to have been forged in science; after all, our ultrasonic biorefinery technology is what underlies our ability to convert forestry by-products into valuable bio-based chemicals. However, the significant commercial progress that we have experienced would not have been possible without the venture expertise and entrepreneurial acumen of our CEO, Adrian Black. This Q&A offers a glimpse into Adrian’s experience in building companies from the ground up, his approach to raising investments and overcoming challenges, and the past failures and successes that have taught him all about scaling a successful business.

Introducing Adrian Black, CEO of Sonichem

Adrian Black

I am the CEO of Sonichem, so my role is to fund and commercialise the brilliant technology and the team behind the company. However, I think that it is crucial to point out that I am not a chemist or a biologist. My career path has landed me in the clean tech industry, but I am a computer scientist and software developer at my core.

Career progression from software development to sustainable technology

I am extremely passionate about innovative technologies, and how they can make a difference in the world. Although I do not have any formal training in engineering or science, I have always been drawn to organisations in the STEM industry, whether it has been automotive businesses, online sales schemes or clean tech companies. Throughout the many stages of my career, I have worked on shaping my commercial skills, and business development is all about progression – building new enterprises, forming teams, raising investment and driving progression – no matter what field you find yourself in.

I took my first steps into commerce in the fast-paced automotive sector, where I designed systems and analysed data. The emergence of the internet was causing a major paradigm shift in the business world at the time, and I quickly accepted a CTO position at an online car dealership. Establishing an internet start-up at the very beginning of the technology boom was an extremely risky business move; although the company experienced some initial success – and was registered on the tertiary stock exchange – it unfortunately failed when the ‘dot-com’ bubble burst. This was a valuable learning experience, as the founder of the business abandoned ship at this point, leaving me to build it back up from the ground. It was at this stage in my career that I discovered a love for problem-solving and entrepreneurship, and this inspired me to pursue an MBA to deepen my knowledge in business strategy and finance, and hone my skills in critical thinking and leadership.

After a few more endeavours in the automotive sector – including consultancy projects for eBay motors and Autotrader, and a full-time position working for the Daily Mail Group to set up an online car sales platform – I was drawn to a completely different passion: tackling fraud. Mentored by one of the board directors of the Daily Mail Group at the time, I began to work with the police and security services to establish fraud forums in the major online sectors, and I was one of the founding members of an organisation called VSTAG. This planted the seed of an idea in my head, which grew to become a legal technology company, NorthRow, that is dedicated to developing systems to automatically detect financial, business and advertising scams. I successfully scaled the business to a Series A+ investment round as CEO, before deciding that it was time to move on to a new venture.

It was at this point that my previous mentor, David Dutton – who by now was Executive Chairman of Bio-Sep (now Sonichem) – asked me to join the company to help turn it from what was essentially a research and development project into an investable business. Although I only had a very superficial understanding of the technology and science behind Sonichem at the time, I could envision how it could be made to work at scale. In addition, fighting the global climate problem was an issue that was far greater than fraud, and I felt like the sustainable technology sector had huge potential for expansion. I therefore accepted the position, and that was how I became CEO of a clean tech company!

What, in your opinion, is the key to a successful technology business?

A successful technology business requires a skilled and knowledgeable team, a solid and well-thought-out business plan, and a flexible and forward-thinking approach that enables continuous development and progress. However, no company has ever risen to success without having to navigate difficult waters along the way, so I believe that resilience is another key aspect of success. As CEO of Sonichem, I am constantly refining my own knowledge, and equipping myself with the tools needed to navigate the dynamic challenges of the business world.

Looking back on Sonichem’s journey, what milestones stand out for you?

I was initially introduced to Sonichem at the start of 2021 and, although the company was backed by over 10 years of research, commercial progress was slow. It had not yet received any external investments, its first-generation pilot plant was not yet fully functioning, and it was even lacking a complete team of full-time employees. My goals were to establish a committed and permanent team, enhance the company’s infrastructure and begin to raise investments.


The first step in Sonichem’s growth was taking over the property that housed our pilot plant, and expanding it into a fully-equipped laboratory to carry out our downstream processing protocols in house. We also hired a complete team of chemists to improve the design of our ultrasonic reactor, and to refine and scale up the technology. Since then, we have applied for new patents for our updated technology, and even undergone a complete rebrand! A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to make the business investment-ready, and we have already raised a significant amount of money – through venture capitalists, angel investors, projects, grants and consortiums – to provide our team with the resources they need. These are all milestones that have made Sonichem what it is today.

How can crowdfunding lead to collective growth at Sonichem?

Sonichem has already grown in leaps and bounds, but the purpose of our new crowdfunding initiative – which we are running through the investment platform Seedrs – is to allow us to continue to operate our pilot plant, and to fund the next stage in the company’s development. We are currently designing a large-scale commercial biorefinery, which will allow us to produce up to 15,000 tonnes per year of bio-based chemicals from forestry waste, making a significant difference in the clean tech sector. Most importantly, crowdfunding is a way for us to expand our reach and accessibility, allowing smaller investors who are interested in contributing to our environmental efforts to participate on the same terms as larger corporations. The global transition towards sustainability is creating vast opportunities in the chemicals industry, and we are well positioned to make a significant impact – and to offer possibilities for substantial investment returns to stakeholders.

Looking to the future, how can Sonichem capitalise on this forward momentum and solidify its position as a leader in the clean tech industry?

Sonichem is in a very good place to experience continued success: the forestry industry is expanding as demand for sustainable building materials soars, so the availability of byproducts such as woodchips and sawdust is rising. While there are other avenues that rely on these waste products – including cement production and the burning of pellets for energy – consumers are increasingly aware of the detrimental environmental effects of these activities, and companies are looking for more sustainable ways to use these readily available resources. At Sonichem, we have developed a clean and scalable way to take these low-grade byproducts and turn them into high-value bio-based chemicals. In addition, our technology is highly flexible, and it has the potential to make an impact in a wide range of industries that produce biomass, including the palm oil and sugar cane sectors. We have already been granted patents in 10 different markets around the world, demonstrating our potential for expansion.


All of these factors point to Sonichem’s growing potential to make waves in the chemicals industry, and our current crowdfunding initiative is the first step in our plan for the future, as we seek funding to drive our production of green chemicals and reduce society’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Dr Andrew West, Awarded Fellowship of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Dr Andy West with Sonichem Lignin

Congratulations to Dr Andrew West, Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Sonichem is celebrating the exciting news that our Chief Chemist, Dr Andrew (Andy) West, has been made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC)! This prestigious award is testament to Andy’s long-time interest in practising and promoting sustainable chemistry in both industry and academia, helping to inspire the next generation of chemists. Here, Andrew talks about what piqued his interest in sustainable chemistry and how that developed into a stellar career.

Sustainable Chemistry from the beginning

I began my career studying at the University of Leicester, where I obtained a Master of Chemistry degree with first class honours, then a PhD in synthetic organic/inorganic chemistry in the field of recyclable heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysts. I became very interested in sustainability during this time, particularly in looking at how chemistry processes could be improved to make them less damaging to the environment. I went on to do a postdoc at Queen’s University Belfast, again looking at sustainability and exploring different ways of working that could potentially displace petrochemicals.

Bio-Based Chemicals and Sonichem

After my postdoc, I joined Melton Mowbray company Pera, a contract research organisation involved in a host of different sectors, including bio-based applications and chemistry. It was a very varied role, with opportunities to engage with a wide range of topics, from making bread out of barley instead of wheat, to producing chemicals from pig slurry. It also included a project with Sonichem – then known as Bio-Sep – which was to prove important to my career development a few years later. A move from industry to academia followed, when I joined Coventry University to investigate ways of making buildings more sustainable, looking at how the carbon footprint of concrete could be improved, and buildings designed to be disassembled at the end of their lifespan rather than demolished into a pile of rubble.

The persuasive argument for sustainable chemicals

A couple of decades ago, there was much less interest in sustainability, which was then considered a trailblazing concept. That has all changed in the intervening years and, today, people are far more aware of the impact mankind has on the planet, and the need to take action to minimise this. The public is starting to question the overuse of packaging and the air miles involved in the food supply chain, and businesses are all too aware of the ever-increasing price of oil. The challenge with any sustainable option is to provide credible solutions offering both environmental and financial benefits, as this encourages their adoption by businesses and individuals. They need to be convinced that any new solutions are not only sustainable, but also easy to implement and use, and affordable. In fact, switching from a petrochemical source to a biological one is not only more sustainable and environmentally friendly, but can also increase profit margins. Import duty is not payable on products made in the UK, and you don’t incur the extensive shipping costs associated with using materials from around the world. So, if a bio-based version of a product is 10 % more expensive, but you save 20-30 % in shipping and import duty, suddenly it’s worth doing. This is where companies like Sonichem come in.


I’d kept in touch as a consultant for Sonichem since my Pera days, so when the company wanted to develop its technology from early-stage research to a commercial reality and asked me to become its Chief Chemist, I was pleased to accept. Our process uses material that is on the doorstep – woody biomass that is available anywhere in the country where there is forestry. Instead of shipping material thousands of miles from, for example, Brazil or North America, we can make chemicals in the UK without the transport miles that would otherwise be part of the process. On top of that, forestry captures carbon in a very short period of time – 30 years as opposed to hundreds of thousands of years in fossil fuels. It’s a really interesting way of making sustainable chemicals.

The road to becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC)

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has a range of membership categories that you progress through as you gain experience. You can join as an associate member while you are studying, and then apply to become a member once you have graduated. That opens up opportunities for further professional development, for example, to become a Chartered Chemist or Chartered Scientist, formally recognising your knowledge and skills – and how you apply them – and a commitment to maintaining high professional standards and continued learning. FRSC takes this a step further. As well as demonstrating your skills by working in the field for a period of time, you also need to show leadership and actively promote the chemical sciences. It’s about being an ambassador for the chemical sciences, getting involved with the RSC and giving something back.


One way of getting involved with the RSC is to join a special interest group. I sit on the committee of the Applied Materials Chemistry Group, a network of people with similar interests across the materials sector. These member networks form a large part of the RSC’s activities, opening up opportunities to share knowledge and experience with your peers, as well as to ask for advice. They are a great way of sharing knowledge; it’s amazing how much overlap there is between the various fields of chemistry, and the RSC is very good at getting people in different sectors talking to each other and solving common problems. There are also opportunities to collaborate with the RSC to co-host events such as the Chemical feedstocks for sustainable industry at Burlington House on the 1st of December, which Sonichem is jointly sponsoring.

Inspiring the next generation

Being a fellow is not just a job, it’s a vocation, a way of life. It’s something you do because you’re passionate about the subject and want to get the next generation interested in chemistry; a qualified chemist has a career for life, they will always be employable. The RSC’s Outreach programme is a great way of engaging with future scientists. There is a chemistry aspect to everything in life – the things you handle, the car you drive, the train you get on, the sandwich you eat – but when I visit a school and ask the students to name something where a chemist has had an impact on their life, the vast majority can’t. That all changes when I start asking questions: Did anybody have a painkiller this morning? Have you turned your mobile phone on? What do you think is in the screen? What’s in the battery? What’s the case made of? You’re wearing glasses, what are the frames made of? You’re wearing clothes, what’s the fabric made of? In a school lab, science is about mixing things in test tubes and seeing the reaction, and it’s amazing when they realise the impact that chemistry has in the real world.

Industry or academia?

I was told quite early on in my career that I would have to choose either an academic or an industrial career pathway, but that’s not been my experience at all. I’ve moved between the two without a problem, you just need to understand that the needs and challenges are different. Whatever the application, you can have an impact on the end product by just changing some very minor things in lots of cases. It’s about looking at what we are currently doing and asking how we can do it more sustainably. There is no need to choose between industry and academia – you can have both!

Help us Create Sustainable Ripples in the Chemicals Industry Through Crowdfunding

Sonichem Crowdfunding with Seedrs

Invest in bio-based chemicals and start a ripple of change

Petrochemicals permeate every nook and cranny of modern society, playing an integral role in the production of everything from plastics and pharmaceuticals to cosmetics and carbon fibres.(1) However, with the term ‘sustainability’ on everybody’s lips, the call to kick our fossil fuel habit has never been louder. It is the collective responsibility of industry giants, small companies and consumers alike to reduce their reliance on oil-based chemicals. Fortunately, Sonichem is making it easy to invest in the future of the planet, offering individuals and organisations the chance to become stakeholders and support our ultra-clean biorefinery technology that is transforming by-products from the forestry sector into sustainable, bio-based chemicals. We are seeking investment through crowdfunding, giving investors the opportunity to join us on our journey towards a cleaner, greener world.

An Exciting Investment Opportunity

Crowdfunding is all about coming together as a community to support exciting projects and businesses, and companies like Seedrsa prominent pan-European investment platform – make it easier than ever to get involved. Sonichem is giving investors the chance to buy shares* in our proprietary ultrasound biorefinery venture, by launching a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs. This opportunity offers an easy way for eco-conscious individuals to become Sonichem shareholders, and prospective investors don’t need a hefty bankroll to participate. In fact, it is possible to secure a stake in Sonichem with as little as £10.

Why should you back our bio-based chemicals?

By investing in Sonichem, you’re committing to joining our mission to develop green, bio-based chemicals. In addition, shareholders will enjoy several benefits of ownership, such as a collective say in the decisions we make and the opportunity to share in our success. The Seedrs nominee structure means that the investment platform will generally exercise these rights on your behalf, while offering protection for your investment. The global transition towards sustainability is creating vast opportunities in the chemicals industry (2) so we are well positioned to make a significant impact, with the potential for substantial returns on your investment! Aside from financial benefits, there are so many good reasons to consider investing in Sonichem’s ultrasonic biorefinery technologies.

Help us to optimise the world’s natural resources

As a Sonichem shareholder, you can help us to repurpose the millions of tons of forestry and agricultural by-products that are either underused, wasted or destroyed each year. At the moment, only 55 percent of the wood from a felled tree emerges from the sawmill as construction timber, while the other 45 percent becomes woodchips and sawdust (3.) Downgrading the value of an already-dwindling source of raw materials already represents a significant waste of resources but, to make matters worse, these low-value by-products are often burnt, contributing to global CO2 emissions. With your investment, we can continue to transform the way that society handles woody biomass.

Join us in sending waves through the chemicals industry

Your investment in Sonichem will help us to expand our production of green chemicals from plant waste. Our patented biorefinery process harnesses both chemistry and ultrasound technologies to break down woody biomass into its three constituent components: sugars, cellulose and lignin. Ultrasound induces a powerful phenomenon called cavitation within the woody biomass, generating significant physical and chemical forces that turn every £1 of simple sawdust into £8 of sustainable, bio-based chemicals that, in turn, can displace finite petrochemicals in a wide range of materials and products.

Partner with us to benefit all stages of the supply chain

Maximising the value of our world’s green resources can benefit foresters and farmers, producers, and consumers alike. The forestry and agricultural sectors are under increasing pressure to minimise their impact on the environment, while increasing their outputs to feed and fuel an ever-growing population. In addition, producers are faced with looming net-zero goals, and are constantly seeking more sustainable materials to reduce their reliance on petrochemicals. Thankfully, consumers too are becoming increasingly environmentally-conscious; investing in our bio-based chemicals can provide them with the peace of mind that they are contributing to traceable, sustainable products with a low environmental impact.

Be a part of Sonichem’s success story

Now at the pilot stage, Sonichem has already received significant attention from investors and industry leaders. It was the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s ‘Best Enabling Technology’ prize in 2021, and its technology was at the heart of a consortium that was awarded a £2.5 million grant to fund the building of its first-ever pilot plant. It has also won iCAST research awards, as well as a Scottish innovation award with Glasgow University, and is leading a consortium that has just been awarded a £600,000 Innovate UK collaboration grant to make net-zero materials that will replace plastics in car interiors. These excellent opportunities have been the driving force behind Sonichem’s past successes, but now, with the help of crowdfunding, we are looking to take our success one step further.

Our goal is to raise £1.1 million of investment to expand our pilot plant operations and fund the design of our first commercial biorefinery, to scale up our production of green chemicals to thousands of tonnes per year. Our future plans include international licensing of our technology, which will allow our process to break down waste from sugarcane and palm oil production into sustainable chemicals. Every little helps, so visit our Seedrs crowdfunding page today to see how your investment can help to create a greener, more sustainable future for us all.

* As with all investments, don’t invest unless you’re prepared to lose all the money you invest.


  1. The Future of Petrochemicals. 2018. International Energy Agency. Accessed: 26 October 2023. Available at:
  2. Bio-based platform chemicals market size. 2023. The International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group. Accessed: 26 October 2023. Available at:
  3. Antwi-Boasiako, C. and Acheampong, B. 2016. Strength properties and calorific values of sawdust-briquettes as wood-residue energy generation source from tropical hardwoods of different densities. Biomass and Bioenergy, 85, 144-152. doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2015.12.006.

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How Nature is Giving a New Face to Cosmetics – Speciality Chemicals Article

Speciality Chemicals Magazine October, with Sonichem Article

Our commercial director discusses the potential application of bio-based chemicals produced from the ultrasonic Sonichem biorefinery process in cosmetics. The bio-based chemicals cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose sugars are extracted from sawdust an abundant low value by-product of sawmills. Each of these green chemicals can be a sustainable alternative to petrochemicals used in the production of cosmetics and their packaging. Cosmetic manufacturers are increasingly looking to reduce their carbon impact and use traceable, sustainable materials in their products.

This article was published in the September edition of Speciality Chemicals Magazine.

Launched 38 years ago, Speciality Chemicals Magazine is the leading publication dedicated to the fine and speciality chemicals industry.

Ho w nature is giving face to cosmetics; speciality chemicals magazine article

Bio-Sep Unveils New Brand Identity Sonichem

Sonichem new brand from Bio-Sep

The team at Bio-Sep are excited to reveal a major rebranding to Sonichem. This rebranding, effective immediately, is inspired by our core proprietary technology, which focuses on the ultrasonic processing of low-value woody biomass to derive high-value green chemicals.

Sonichem’s new mission and vision statements bolster the company’s contribution to a circular economy where humanity can sustainably meet its chemical needs by maximising the value of renewable resources.

Our new logo, featuring a ripple effect, symbolises both the ultrasonic waves essential to our process and our aim to instigate meaningful sustainability changes in the supply chains of the chemical and forestry sectors.

Other elements of the brand evolution include a new colour palette that represents a modern green chemicals company, alongside new imagery to reflect sonication effects and the hidden green chemicals naturally contained within biomass. 

Adrian Black, CEO at Sonichem, announced: “We are delighted to embrace a fresh identity that demonstrates how our unique, low-energy biorefinery process is sending ripples through the chemical industry. Rebranding to Sonichem reflects the next stage in our growth journey as we supply our partners across multiple sectors with high-quality biochemicals extracted using our ultrasonic technology.’

This change is limited to our brand, and Sonichem Technologies Limited is our new official registered name. All our team and contact details remain the same, though is now our primary domain name for emails and we invite you to explore our refreshed brand throughout this new website

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.
  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

New Joint Industry Project with iCAST and the National Composite Centre

Bio-Sep Biochemicals and Biorefinery

Bio-Sep (now Sonichem) Launches new Joint Industry Project to Fuel the  Green Revolution

Bio-Sep (now Sonichem) has begun an exciting joint industry project which aims to develop renewable, bio-sourced alternatives for existing petrochemically-derived platform chemicals, ultimately helping to meet the worldwide demand for clean technologies and contributing to net-zero carbon goals. The new venture is in collaboration with the Innovation Centre for Applied Sustainable Technologies (iCAST), which includes prestigious institutions such as the University of Bath and the National Composites Centre (NCC).

Bio-Sep specialises in the conversion of non-food, lignocellulosic biomass generated by agriculture and forestry into high-value biochemicals, using its unique, low energy biorefinery process. It produces a novel, non-sulfonated lignin with enhanced reactivity and low molecular weight. This new product and exclusive separation process have great potential for the large-scale manufacture of sustainable biochemical substitutes that can be used in multiple commercial applications, such as the composites and construction industries. The joint industry project aims to extensively test the properties and performance of the products, both as part of biobased composites and as a cement admixture.

Dr Andrew West, Chief Chemist at Sonichem (previously Bio-Sep), explained: “This interdisciplinary R&D project will allow us to develop and demonstrate potential applications for our non-sulfonated lignin and biorefinery process. We are very much looking forward to working with our valuable partners within iCAST, and benefiting from their global expertise and extensive knowledge in bio-based materials chemistry and composites manufacture.”

Professor Matthew Davidson, iCAST Director, added: “We are delighted to be working with Bio-Sep to accelerate innovation in this important area. It is exactly the sort of collaboration that iCAST was designed to undertake, and one of the first of around 50 joint industry projects that we plan to deliver in the next two years. By bringing together iCAST’s expertise in materials and manufacturing with innovative companies such as Bio-Sep, we aim to accelerate the deployment of sustainable technologies into commercial applications. This will in turn contribute to achieving the UK’s net zero and Clean Growth targets.”

Tim Young, Head of Sustainability at the National Composites Centre, said: “Being part of the Bio-Sep project will enable us to assess the suitability of a highly innovative, low carbon, composite material. The NCC team looks forward to assessing the feasibility of the material for use in industrial applications using our design, manufacturing and quality assessment expertise alongside our customer network, to help the material’s route to market. We are delighted to support Bio-Sep with its exciting sustainability offering for the composites marketplace, and to be part of the consortium of partners, pooling expertise and knowledge in this growing specialist area.”

Early results of the project are encouraging, suggesting that in the near future, composites and construction industries could make use of a low-carbon, renewable material, further displacing petrochemicals and improving their operational sustainability.

About iCAST

The Innovation Centre for Applied Sustainable Technologies (iCAST) is a unique collaboration set to deliver agile innovation in green, sustainable technologies. Bringing together experts across all the innovation stages, it focusses on bringing together industry and academia to translate discoveries into commercial application. iCAST is a partnership between the universities of Bath and Oxford, the High-Value Manufacturing Catapults (National Composites Centre and Centre for Process Innovation), the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership and SETsquared. This project is funded by Research England. / @icastinfo

About the National Composites Centre

The National Composites Centre (NCC) is the UK’s world-leading composite research and development facility; where innovators come when they need to make things lighter, stronger, smarter and more sustainable. Its key focus areas are Composites, Digital Engineering, Hydrogen and Sustainability. With access to ‘beyond’ state-of-the-art technology and the best composites engineering capabilities in the world, the NCC collaborates with customers to solve the most complex engineering challenges of our time.  Part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the NCC works across all manufacturing sectors and has forged strong links with aerospace, energy, defence, space, construction, infrastructure, auto, rail, marine and biomedical. It works with organisations across the board from micro enterprises and SMEs to disrupters, the supply chain and OEMs, providing businesses with a de-risked environment to design, develop, test and scale their ideas and get them to market fast. For more information visit

Creating Sustainable Composites From Sawdust

Foresty and Timber News October 2022
Sustainable composites from sawdust article

The Green Revolution, creating sustainable composites from sawdust

Forestry and Timber News, October 2022 – Wood in the Circular Economy Edition

The Green Revolution

Carbon is the backbone of so many everyday materials and products that the chemical industry producing these products accounts for around 6% of global petroleum use. Societal concerns around climate change and decarbonization are driving what industry and policy makers are calling the Green Revolution, a movement in manufacturing from black petro-sourced carbon to green bio-sourced carbon.

Global brands including Unilever, PepsiCo and L’Oreal are investing billions of pounds to remove fossil-derived ingredients from their products and packaging over the next 5-10 years, significantly increasing demand for bio-derived alternatives. However, with natural resource depletion, increasing strain on global supply chains and an ever-growing global population, there are significant sustainability concerns regarding the use of food crops in chemical production. Focus instead is shifting towards the use of low value co-products from agricultural and forestry operations as a more suitable source of biochemicals.

Against this backdrop, Sonichem’s mission is to maximise the value of underutilised resources. To achieve this, Sonichem have developed Sonichem an award-winning low-energy ultrasonic process to convert woody biomass into chemicals. The Sonichem process generates almost zero waste, is water-use neutral, and produces three high-value products (cellulose, sugar syrup and lignin).

Wood: Nature’s Composite

The fibrous or woody component of plants and trees is called lignocellulose. The word derives from ‘Lignum’, the Latin name for wood, and is essentially nature’s composite. Wood consists of three components: cellulose fibres together with hemicellulose form a matrix which in turn is bound together by an aromatic biochemical called lignin. In nature this complex chemical structure of three biochemicals results in a solid cell wall that is resistant to wind, water, pests, and sunlight. When separated from each other these biochemicals are known as bio-based platform biochemicals and have wide market potential.

For many years, cellulose has been extracted from wood for the pulp and paper industry. Bio-Sep’s ultrasonic process produces a crystalline cellulose which is a high value speciality chemical with applications in food and beverages, cosmetics, and performance composites. 

Lignin is the world’s second most abundant biopolymer after cellulose. It is nature’s binding material, the substance that gives plants and trees their structural integrity and strength. Its aromatic structure makes it the most suitable biochemical to replace a toxic petrochemical called phenol, which is commonly used in resins, composites, coatings, and adhesives. Fluctuations in the price of phenol due to changes in oil price, and concerns about the toxic exposure of workers to phenol during the manufacturing process, make lignin an attractive bio-derived alternative. Natural lignin could be used for a phenolic replacement to make sustainable resins for use in, for example, the chipboard industry; the chips of wood could be held together with a resin made from lignin. Lignin as an eco-substitute not only reduces the carbon footprint and toxicity for manufacturers but also provides additional performance benefits such as fire resistance and UV protection.

The UK’s composite challenge is an opportunity

Humans have been making composite materials for years, starting thousands of years ago with a mud brick made from mud and straw, evolving to today’s materials such as concrete –a matrix of small stones bound by cement and lightweight materials such as carbon fibre.   

Composites are a high growth industry in the UK across sectors such as construction, aeronautics, and now renewable energy with wind turbines being made in the UK.  Composites UK estimates the UK composites industry was valued at £16.64bn in 2020. Added to this, UK composites companies are increasingly focused on biomaterial use for their sustainability strategy. According to Innovate UK, a lack of local supply of these biomaterials is one of their biggest challenges.

Supply chain issues over the last few years combined with the environmental footprint of shipping means that the industry is clamouring for a ‘reshoring’ of their input materials. This challenge to the composite industry presents a huge market opportunity for suitable platform biochemicals. This includes lignin and cellulose produced in the UK from available biomass sources, the most abundant of which is sawdust from the forestry industry.

R&D for a new forestry based performance composite

Sonichem embarked on a Joint Industry Project together with iCAST (The innovation Centre of Applied Sustainable Technologies), the National Composite Centre (NCC), and the University of Bath for the production and testing of bio-based composites from cellulose and lignin. Market testing will be undertaken by Scott Bader, a global manufacturer of resins and composites.

The NCC are looking to enhance their experience and understanding of the properties and manufacture of novel, sustainable materials

For this project they will be testing the mechanical properties and performance of Sonichem produced lignin and cellulose blends as a composite binder/matrix material.

The University of Bath will be producing and testing concrete materials incorporating Sonichems products as admixtures. Early results from the project are looking promising with demonstrable performance benefits and carbon reduction potential.

This project will enable the identification of construction and composite applications for lignin and cellulose extracted from UK grown sawdust (generously supplied to Sonichem by James Jones & Sons). With tried and tested performance characteristics, the high growth UK composites industry could make use of these low carbon, renewable materials, to displace petrochemical materials, create a local biochemical supply chain, and enhance the sustainability of their products.



How do you see biorefining contributing towards net zero in the next 10-30 years?

The world needs chemicals, plastics, composites, and household goods that are not derived from crude oil, with its unsustainable impact on the environment, or from food crops, but instead from sustainable sources such as forestry. Biorefining will enable a shift from fossil to renewable green carbon resources, helping decouple chemical production from fossil resources and reducing CO2 emissions.

Is there an appetite from manufacturers to shift processes to using natural biochemicals?

Absolutely. Manufacturers cannot see a future without sustainable chemicals. Consumer behavior and government regulations such as carbon taxes will drive the change. In the future it is unlikely that chemicals will be purchased without a life cycle analysis, carbon footprint analysis and traceable supply certificate.

What of Sonichem’s current work are you most excited to see the results from?

I am really looking forward to seeing the results from the aforementioned industry project where we will be producing and testing a composite product. We also have another project in the pipeline which will look deeper into lignin as a coating. I can see a future where we produce a waterproof, fire-resistant composite out of 100% forestry-produced biochemicals that can be recycled again by our process at end-of-life to create something new, resulting in truly circular green materials.

Bio-Sep Joins Allia Climate Accelerator 2022

Allia Climate Accelerator

Bio-Sep were selected to join the very first cohort of Allia’s Climate Accelerator programme, which is culminating in a pitch day on the 14th July, when we will be proud to be pitching alongside our cohort of inspirational impact founders.

Allia is the first UK partner of EIT Climate-KIC to run a 6-month intensive Accelerator offering climate tech founders the opportunity to develop their start-ups and tackle the critical mission of the climate crisis. 

EIT Climate-KIC is the EU’s main climate innovation initiative, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), and works with more than 450 global partners to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon, climate-resilient society. Allia have been running an Impact Accelerator in both Cambridge and London for 5 years, and have helped hundreds of start-ups to scale, develop and amplify their impact

Bio-Sep were selected to join the first cohort to help accelerate the commercialisation of our technology that will contribute to the circular economy by upcycling low value biomass by extracting valuable bio-chemicals, delivering significant global socio-economic benefits.

During Allia’s Climate Accelerator we have had 6 months of intensive coaching and mentoring from industry experts and specialist workshops, and have gained much from being part of an incredible cohort of climate positive start ups.

Start-ups with innovative solutions with huge potential for scalable environmental impact, be it in carbon removal, adaptation, an enabling technology or other environmental friendly enterprise. As a cohort we have been working with tools and methodologies for estimating and validating the climate impact of our ventures.

The programme is culminating with a pitch day on the 14th July where the founders including Bio-Sep’s CEO, Adrian Black, will present to a judging panel and audience of entrepreneurs, industry leaders, investors and climate funds. 

Register and watch us all pitch and find out about some incredible climate positive ventures that are about to graduate from Alias Climate Accelerator!

The in-person event will take place from 2-5pm at the British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Rd, Cambridge CB3 0ET and will be streamed online. You can register to attend the event either in person in Cambridge or online via zoom. Follow the link below to register.