Valorization of lignin to high-value chemicals and products along with biofuel production is generally acknowledged as a technology platform that could significantly improve the economic viability of biorefinery operations. With a growing demand for electrical energy storage materials, lignin-derived activated carbon (AC) materials have received increasing attention in recent years. However, there is an apparent gap in our understanding of the impact of the lignin precursors (i.e., lignin structure, composition and inter-unit linkages) on the structural and electrochemical properties of the derived ACs. In the present study, lignin-derived ACs were prepared under identical conditions from two different lignin sources: alkaline pretreated poplar and pine. The lignin precursors were characterized using composition analysis, size exclusion chromatography, and 2D HSQC nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Distinctive distributions of numerous micro-, meso- and macro-porous channels were observed in the two lignin-derived ACs. Poplar lignin-derived ACs exhibited a larger BET surface area and total mesopore volume than pine lignin-derived AC, which contributed to a larger electrochemical capacitance over a range of scan rates. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopic analysis (XPS) results revealed the presence of oxygen-containing functional groups in all lignin-derived ACs, which participated in redox reactions and thus contributed to an additional pseudo-capacitance. A possible process mechanism was proposed to explain the effects of lignin structure and composition on lignin-derived AC pore structure during thermochemical conversion. This study provides insight into how the lignin composition and structure affect the derived ACs for energy storage applications.

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Published in RSC Advances, v. 8, issue 68, p. 38721-38732.

This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2018

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported Licence.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture under project accession no. 1015068 and the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreements 1355438. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is managed by UTBattelle, LLC under Contract DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). YZ, NW, and DYK appreciate support from National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement No. 1355438 and Kentucky Science & Engineering Foundation grant (KSEF-3884-RDE-020).

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