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Student Spotlight: Joseph Baker

Student Spotlight: Joseph Baker

Graduate student, Joseph Baker, performed research at Eastern Kentucky University under the supervision of CRAFT chemistry faculty. He worked on a  synthetic project designed to make catalysts (metallic porphyrins) for the degradation of lignin. Lignin is a constituent of the cell walls of almost all dry land plant cell walls. It is the second most abundant natural polymer in the world, surpassed only by cellulose. Of the polymers found in plant cell walls, lignin is the only one that is not composed of carbohydrate (sugar) monomers.

Baker’s work utilized ionic liquids, which are unique, environmentally friendly solvents, to produce chemical components from lignin for industrial uses. Ionic liquids have received much attention for their ability to dissolve lignin and cellulose and by incorporating a catalyst into the system chemically.  The purpose of the research was to reduce loss of the catalyst to improve processing. The purpose of delignification provides for the processing of lignocellulosic materials, yielding valuable bioproducts (biopolymers, biofuels, commodity chemicals, etc).

 “The idea is that we take ionic liquids that can selectively dissolve lignin, which enables us to extract the lignin. Once lignin is extracted and placed into solution, we will use these catalysts to break it up into its pieces, which themselves can be very valuable for alternative fuels,” says Baker.

Presently, the most common use of plant biomass for energy production is simply burning it, but that isn’t nearly as economically effective as it would be if all the potential bioproducts of plant material were utilized individually. The ability to extract the lignin through the use of ionic solutions will facilitate the further advancement of alternative fuels.  Lignin is about 1/3 of the composition of biomass, while it is also the least utilized. The value of lignin is substantially greater if it can be separated.

Baker’s favorite part of working on the project is a positive outcome after assessing the feasibility of the materials. He enjoys the trial and reward aspect of the task at hand. “Everything success related is great for this project,” added Joe.

Joe obtained his B.S. in Chemistry from EKU, and graduated in 2012 with his Master’s in Chemistry. Currently, he is attending Texas A&M pursuing a Ph.D in Inorganic Chemistry.  Joe says that the experience he has obtained at EKU while working for CRAFT will prove to be extremely beneficial in his career and other future endeavors.


iWhat is lignin? (2012). Retrieved April 24, 2012, from Lignoworks:

Published on April 26, 2012

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