Wyatt Larson

Date of Award

January 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

Wayne Seames


As the world moves away from fossil fuels, it is important to find new feedstock sources not only for fuels but also for chemicals and materials used every day that are also derived from fossil fuels. One potential source is lignin. Lignin is a large complex polymer with an abundance of cyclic groups making it a good candidate to produce chemicals that typically come from crude oil. However, the transformation of lignin into these compounds is a challenge, and processes to use lignin as a crude oil substitute have yet to be commercialized. Lignin is present in woods, grasses, and other lignocellulosic plants, including corn. Corn is North Dakota’s third most profitable crop and a popular crop all throughout the United States. Most of the corn’s stover is underutilized, making it a potentially cheap and renewable source of lignin. In this study, a novel process was developed based on a unique non-catalytic decomposition technology developed at UND to decompose lignin into valuable monomers that can be recovered and purified into valuable products. A preliminary design was completed at the process flow diagram level of detail along with an American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE) Class 4 factored capital cost estimate and comparable operating costs and revenue estimates to evaluate process feasibility. At a design feed rate of 3,300 kg/hour of corn stover-derived lignin, the designed process has a projected net present value (NPV@20%) of $51 million and a DCFROR of 35%, indicating that it is likely to be commercially viable.