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Production of Flavoring Agents from Corn Cobs

Researchers from the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis at the University of Kansas have developed a chemical process for extracting useful chemical products from lignin sourced from corn. 

The U.S. is rich in agricultural biomass. In 2019, Kansas alone harvested 22 million tons of corn. These harvests generate an equivalent mass of non-food stalks, leaves, and cobs. Producing valuable products from the lignin portion can make biorefineries more profitable. Vanillin and p–hydroxybenzaldehyde (pHB) are both aromatic compounds with the capacity for application as flavoring agents. It is known that these desired compounds may be produced from corn stover lignin. The KU process presented here demonstrates lignin extraction from a different source, corn cobs, that ultimately doubles the vanillin and pHB yield compared to stover.

How It Works:
At its core, the KU process is a discovery that improves upon current industry understanding by providing a detailed explanation as to why compound isolation from corn cobs is more desirable than from corn stover. The process uses an ozonolysis reaction and harnesses the correlation between concentrations of ferulates and coumarates in cobs and the resulting output of vanillin and pHB during extraction.

Why It Is Better:
In addition to valuable flavoring agents, vanillin and pHB can also be used as substitutes for phenol to make renewable materials. They can also be used as phenol substitutes to make resins and building materials. The KU process shows increased vanillin and pHB extraction from different sources of agricultural leftovers

One of the most applicable entry points of this new process is in the renewable chemicals market. For example, the aromatic end products of vanillin and pHB can be used as substitutes to phenol in producing renewable chemicals such as resins. Marketing vanillin or pHB specifically as an alternative to phenol would also be a valuable tool in the present market. The fragrance market is continuously utilizing vanillin. There are also chemical reagent companies selling pHB and synthetic nonnatural vanillin compounds in bulk.

Additional Details


University of Kansas

Intellectual Property Protection

Pending Patent

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