Wood Science and Technology

, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 7–47 | Cite as

Structure, chemical reactivity and solubility of lignin: a fresh look

  • Edward I. Evstigneyev
  • Sergey M. ShevchenkoEmail author


This is a review of historical and modern literature data on the structure versus properties of wood lignin in view of the concepts developed by the authors based on their own research. Changes in the structure of lignin and related changes in its chemical reactivity during alkaline wood pulping are assessed based on the comparison of the structures of lignin at three kinetically distinct stages of delignification: initial, bulk and final. Lignin gradually moves from a solid to a liquid phase during the pulping process; therefore, structures of native, dissolved and residual lignin are elucidated and compared. The emphasis is on changes in the molecular weight distribution and content of alkylarylether bonds, and functional groups, in particular phenolic hydroxyls. For comparison, splitting rates for α- and β-alkylarylether bonds in both phenolic and non-phenolic lignin model compounds are analyzed. Based on the comparative analysis of the experimental data, it is suggested that native lignin in wood consists mainly of three distinct fractions that are different in chemical reactivities of alkylarylether bonds. This phenomenon results in three kinetically distinct stages of the pulping process. Wood delignification is essentially a process of lignin functionalization followed by its dissolution. The functionalization, i.e., formation of additional functional groups in the macromolecule, continues until it reaches the level sufficient for lignin dissolution under chosen conditions, and then, delignification occurs. At the bulk stage of pulping, the rate of delignification is directly proportional to the degree of functionalization. The data characterizing the effect of redox reactions on the structure and chemical reactivity of lignin in alkali–anthraquinone pulping are analyzed in detail in view of their general importance for our understanding of the chemical reactivity of lignin. Results of polarographic studies of numerous representative lignin model compounds (> 70 samples) and lignin samples, including chemically changed lignins, are compiled, and a diagram of reduction potentials of polarographically active functional groups in lignin is drawn. From a comparison of redox properties of lignin and 32 pulping additives, criteria for selection of potential alkaline pulping catalysts are derived. Solubility belongs to basic properties of polymers, lignin included, and all methods of delignification of plant materials can be essentially reduced to solid polymer functionalization followed by its dissolution. Factors contributing to lignin solubility are analyzed, including such characteristics as molecular weight, temperature, liquid–solid ratio and ionic strength. Based on the analyzed data, a uniform scale of solubility for different lignin types is proposed, and formulae for calculating lignin solubility in alkaline media are derived.



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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.St.-Petersburg State Forest Technical UniversitySt.-PetersburgRussia
  2. 2.TijerasUSA

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