Source: Sirius Facilities

How Lignopure is harnessing the power of trees with innovative technology

Do you know of a material that simultaneously strengthens, protects against UV light as well as flames, acts as an antioxidant, and is also sustainable and climate-friendly? Joana Gil and Dr. Wienke Reynolds are working with their Hamburg-based, deeply bioinnovative company Lignopure to develop exactly that kind of material – and they’re doing it here at Sirius Business Park Buxtehude!

How did you come to found Lignopure and what exactly do you do?

We met at the Technical University, where we were working as research assistants on the recycling and product development of lignin. Lignin is a biopolymer that occurs in trees and grain, for example. It also occurs as a waste product at biorefineries and in the paper industry – around 50 to 100 million tons of lignin are produced worldwide, but only 2 to 5 % of it is reused! Yet lignin is a substance with versatile and very useful properties, similar to cellulose. In nature, it gives plants resistance in many ways: it provides stability, protects against UV rays, and acts as an antioxidant and an antimicrobial barrier.

That’s why we asked ourselves: Why doesn’t anyone use it? It would be great if we could make all these functions useful for humans, too! We have developed a new technology to transform lignin and use it for various products, e.g. in cosmetic ingredients. We have now patented this technology that allows us to close a technological gap between the manufacturers and end users.

Are there other companies that offer something like this?

There are a few companies working in this direction, but we have our own concept. On the one hand, it is not at all easy to process lignin precisely because it is so resilient, one could even say unruly! On the other hand, as already mentioned, lignin has very many different properties and can therefore be used for very different purposes. Most companies focus on just one area of application. However, we believe that lignin’s greatest strength lies in the fact that a single ingredient can offer so many advantages. At the moment, we are focusing on its application in cosmetic formulations, and in that sector alone, lignin can fulfill a multitude of functions.

Many ingredients used up to now have come under increasing scrutiny for being harmful to health and the environment recently, for example in sun creams. It is suspected that many of these products contain carcinogenic substances. In addition, some ingredients, such as plastic microparticles, pollute the environment. That’s why there are more and more sun creams with mineral UV filters now. However, they often make you look like a ghost because the mineral pigments form a white layer on your skin. LignoBase (our lignin-based ingredient) is an excellent alternative here: it protects against UV light but does no harm to health or the environment, and it doesn’t leave any white color on your skin! And this is just one example of the multitude of products that can be enhanced by lignin.

In general, more and more companies seem to be thinking about climate and environmentally friendly products. Would you say that the economy as a whole is becoming “greener”?

Yes, there is definitely a strong movement towards more sustainability. And it’s happening on different levels: On the one hand, political requirements and regulations are increasing, and on the other hand, a growing number of companies also want to become active on their own. Of course, universal standards are still lacking in many places, and greenwashing is also taking place.

Nevertheless, this is much more than just a trend. More and more stakeholders are bringing their know-how to the table.

What are your plans for 2022?

We would like to start production and bring our product LignoBase onto the market – we have now already installed the pilot plant to do that. Subsequently, production capacity will be ramped up. In the process, we plan to stay at this facility and expand our customer portfolio. Perhaps in the future we will not only offer cosmetic ingredients, but also finished cosmetic products. In any case, we will continue to innovate and research new technologies.

At the same time, we would like to further improve our impact in terms of sustainability. For example, biorefineries could work directly with the technology developed by Lignopure, thus eliminating the need for costly transportation to us.

What is your big vision for the future?

We would like to offer materials to the industry that are good for the Earth and our health. Many people might not think of this in the first place when it comes to impact and environmental protection: sustainability is more than just saving CO2 – it’s just as much about the well-being of us humans!

We can only agree and wish the whole team at Lignopure continued success! Thank you very much for the interview and the interesting outlook on their future technology.

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