The Lindbergh Foundation Believes that Innovative Science and Technology Hold the Key to Addressing Humanity’s Environmental and Productivity Challenges

Dr. Patricia Saenz Mendez, School of Chemistry, University of the Republic (UdelaR), Montevideo, Uruguay

“Employing Biotechnical Tools to Convert Lignin Waste into High Value Organic Chemicals for Leather Tanning in Uruguay”

Category: Waste Minimization and Management: 2009

One of the most significant challenges facing the chemical industry in the 21st century is sustainable economic growth, which requires sustainable resources for industrial production. Uruguay's economy remains dependent on agriculture and services, including leather production and apparel, which represents 23% of GDP and over two-thirds of total exports. Limited deposits of fossil fuels and environmental concerns such as greenhouse gases have prompted the scientific community to look for alternatives to fossil resources. Lignin is one such resource. A by-product of the paper and pulp industry, lignin is used as a fuel for the pulping process.

In this study, Dr. Saenz Méndez proposes to develop a biotechnological process using fungi and isolated enzymes to convert lignin into a high value-added chemical that would replace chromium sulfate, a tanning agent used in the production of leather. Chromium is a fossil-derived chemical and is a leading cause of water pollution in Uruguay. Lignin offers a great opportunity to address the growing need for chemicals without depleting natural resources, and for reducing industrial waste disposal in an environmentally sound fashion. Transforming industrial waste, like lignin, into useful products will balance the demands of industry and the environment, making the new chemical industry economically viable as well as socially and environmentally responsible.

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