European researcher aims to generate more value from biomass

By Imperial College London | January 23, 2017

Congratulations to Roberto Rinaldi who has been awarded a €2 million European Research Council Consolidator Grant to support his research.

Roberto Rinaldi FRSC, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London has been awarded a highly prestigious European Research Council Consolidator Grant to fund his world-leading work on lignin valorization. These highly competitive grants are awarded to outstanding early career researchers to help them consolidate their research teams, develop their innovative ideas and establish themselves as leaders in their fields.

The ERC grants are one of the top funding schemes available to researchers in Europe, and recipients must have an exceptional track record for their career stage. The ERC only considers world-class researchers who submit a research proposal of the highest standard.

Rinaldi’s work aims to develop new chemical technologies for the valorization of waste biomass (e.g. agricultural residues, switchgrass, straw, etc.). His research is centered around lignin, a major component of lignocellulosic biomass which is very poorly utilized despite making up around 20-30 percent of the mass of every tree or plant. In fact, it is released as an industrial waste of the paper and pulp industries and currently incinerated to generate electricity.

As an alternative renewable resource for the production of energy, chemicals, polymers and materials, lignin biomass has the potential to alleviate the current reliance on petrochemical sources with significant world-wide implications on environmental sustainability.

Rinaldi has been looking into new ways of creating value in lignin biorefining processes by looking at the whole value chain system and using a beginning "beginning-to-end" approach for the route to economic viability in lignin biomass production.

Rinaldi said, “I am delighted to receive a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council. The planet’s rapidly depleting fossil fuel reserves, combined with an ever-rapidly growing global population, has driven a need to find renewable resources to meet increasing energy and material demands. I hope this grant will help lead to some ground-breaking research in lignin valorization, which will be critical in helping us transition to a renewable, biobased economy.”