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Lakehead's Biorefining Research Initiative (BRI) Receives Funding for Lignin Research

(March 3, 2010 - Thunder Bay, ON) Lakehead University is pleased to announce receipt of an NSERC Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) grant in the amount of $621,200 over a four-year period for the University's Biorefining Research Initiative (BRI).  The grant will foster research on the "Enzymatic Modification of Lignin for Polymer Applications." FPInnovations is an active partner on the project and is contributing in-kind contributions valued at approximately $356,000. 

The research team spearheading this project comprises Dr. Robert Dekker, Principal Investigator and Director of Lakehead's BRI, Co-applicants Drs. Lada Malek (Biology) and Len Hutchinson (Forestry), and collaborator Dr. Michael Paleologou of FPInnovations (Paprican), out of Pointe Claire, Quebec.  The project will involve three PhD students and a Post-Doc Fellow, with the assistance of undergraduate students.
Lignin is a by-product of the pulp and paper industry.  During the pulping of wood, the stage when cellulose is produced, lignin appears in what is referred to as "black liquor."  Black liquor is a waste product of the pulping process that is then burned at pulp mills to generate electricity.  By tapping into black liquor, removing some portions of it, and value-adding it, it can be used in polymer applications such as plastics and adhesives.  As adhesives, lignin can be used to laminate wood or to bind the material in wood pellets. 

"Lakehead has become a centre of critical mass," explains Dr. Dekker.  "Not only do our researchers examine the photochemical and electrochemical modification of lignin for use in value-added products, but now the BRI looks at the possibility of modifying lignin from a biological approach using microbes and enzymes." Dekker adds this is an environmentally friendly alternative to the harsh methods employed chemically, as enzymes are able to target specific functional groups on polymer surfaces without destroying the polymer itself.

An intensive screening program of fungi collected from the Boreal Forest biome and housed in the Mycological Herbarium at Lakehead, provides the means to search for enzymes that modify lignin.  Of particular interest are enzymes that specifically cleave off certain functional groups from lignin molecules, thereby, making the product more reactive for polymer applications.

This NSERC-CRD grant is the first awarded to the BRI.  It complements research programs on chemical modification of lignin currently in progress across Canada and by Lakehead researchers, Drs. Aicheng Chen, Charles Xu, and Matt Leitch. 


Media: Dr. Dekker is available for media interviews.  To arrange interview times, please contact Communications Officer Heather Scott at 807-343-8177 or; or Director of Communications Eleanor Abaya at 807-343-8372 or

About Lakehead
Lakehead is a comprehensive university with a reputation for innovative programs and cutting-edge research. With a main campus located in Thunder Bay, Ontario and a campus in Orillia, Ontario, Lakehead has over 7,700 students and 2,250 faculty and staff, and is home to the west campus of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. In 2006, Research Infosource Inc. named Lakehead University Canada's Research University of the Year in the undergraduate category. For more information on Lakehead University, visit

Last updated June 22, 2010

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