The development of fundamentally new valorization strategies for lignin plays a vital role in unlocking the true potential of lignocellulosic biomass as sustainable and economically compatible renewable carbon feedstock. In particular, new catalytic modification and depolymerization strategies are required. Progress in this field, past and future, relies for a large part on the application of synthetic model compounds that reduce the complexity of working with the lignin biopolymer. This aids the development of catalytic methodologies and in-depth mechanistic studies and guides structural characterization studies in the lignin field. However, due to the volume of literature and the piecemeal publication of methodology, the choice of suitable lignin model compounds is far from straight forward, especially for those outside the field and lacking a background in organic synthesis. For example, in catalytic depolymerization studies, a balance between synthetic effort and fidelity compared to the actual lignin of interest needs to be found. In this Review, we provide a broad overview of the model compounds available to study the chemistry of the main native linking motifs typically found in lignins from woody biomass, the synthetic routes and effort required to access them, and discuss to what extent these represent actual lignin structures. This overview can aid researchers in their selection of the most suitable lignin model systems for the development of emerging lignin modification and depolymerization technologies, maximizing their chances of successfully developing novel lignin valorization strategies.
- model compounds
- organic synthesis