Performance and Economic Analysis of Organosolv Softwood and Herbaceous Lignins to Activated Carbons as Electrode Materials in Supercapacitors

Lu Yu, Kendhl Seabright, Ishan Bajaj, David J. Keffer, David M. Alonso, Chien Te Hsieh, Mi Li, Hao Chen, Sheng Dai, Yasser Ashraf Gandomi, Christos T. Maravelias, David P. Harper

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9 Scopus citations


In this work, yellow pine (YP, softwood) and switchgrass (SG, grass) lignins were extracted as a coproduct of an organosolv γ-valerolactone (GVL) biorefinery that also produces biofuels and furfural. The extracted lignins were converted to carbon precursors for synthesizing porous activated carbon electrodes for high energy-density supercapacitors. This research details the impact of lignin composition on the derived porous structures and electrochemical properties of activated carbons. Lignin precursors with various syringyl (S) to guaiacyl (G) contents were characterized using 31P nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and two-dimensional 1H‒13C NMR. A two-step activation process, using steam and carbon dioxide as the activating agents, enabled the formation of porous carbons structures with high surface area. The capacitive behavior of supercapacitors was systematically characterized by cyclic voltammetry, charge-discharge cycling, and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. The specific capacitance of YP and SG capacitors reached 367 and 221 F g−1, respectively. Both types of capacitors demonstrated remarkably stable capacitance (capacitance retention >90%) along with excellent Coulombic efficiency (>99%) over 10,000 cycles. Compared to SG electrode, the better electrochemical performance achieved with YP electrodes was mainly due to shorter diffusion path, improved ionic mobility, and increased active surface area. The inexpensive lignin-based porous electrodes synthesized in this work can be used for various electrochemical devices for improved performance, decreased cost, and enhanced durability. This work also demonstrates that the selection of feedstock and appropriate processing conditions can tailor the structure of carbon composites for targeted applications. Techno-economic analysis indicates that YP and SG activated carbons can be produced at a minimum selling price of $8,493 and $6,670 per ton, respectively, which is competitive with the commercially available supercapacitor-grade activated carbons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number849949
JournalFrontiers in Energy Research
StatePublished - Mar 7 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Economics and Econometrics


  • activated carbon
  • economic analysis
  • lignin
  • supercapacitors
  • γ-valerolactone


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