"The old joke is you can make anything from lignin but money." - Andy Aden, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Halil Ceylan, a professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at Iowa State University, seems to have taken this idea well to heart in devising his latest project. Explaining that the soil underlying much of Iowa's roads is notoriously unstable, Ceyland said that the state's conventional approach has been to mix it with expensive chemicals to strengthen it and make it safe for vehicles to drive over. However, because this approach only works with certain types of soils and under certain conditions, civil engineers have been looking for more efficient, better solutions.
Enter lignin. A by-product generated during ethanol production from plant fibers, Ceylan and his colleague, Kasthurirangan Gopalakrishnan, believe it could well provide the solution the engineers have been searching for. Pointing out that previous research had demonstrated the value of lignin obtained from the paper-making industry as a cementing agent that could be used for soil stabilization, he said he didn't see a reason why lignin derived from ethanol production shouldn't work.
"It is expected that the lignin derived from lignocellulosic biorefineries will see similar success, if not better," he said. To test this, Ceylan and his research team will prepare soil samples containing various amounts of lignin - with each being evaluated for strength, stability and other properties.
If it works, Ceylan explains that the technology would come in very handy for the truckers who transport large amounts of corn through rural areas - a symptom of the state's ethanol boom. "Roads are designed according to traffic forecasts and suddenly there is a lot more truck traffic. This can be a cause of distress to the highway system. But, maybe we can also get the benefit of soil and road stabilization from these plants."
Via ::ISU News Service: Iowa State engineers hope to build better roads by using ethanol co-products (news release), ::Biopact:
Green roads: engineers investigate biofuel co-product lignin for use in road construction (blog)