Recent Advances and Research Trends in the Eco-friendly Lignin-based Fertilizers: Production Technologies, Process Mechanisms and Performance Appraisal

Document Type : Review


1 Ph.D. Student, Department of Agrotechnology, College of Abouraihan, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.

2 Full Professor, Department of Agrotechnology, College of Abouraihan, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.

3 Assistant Professor , Department of Agrotechnology, College of Abouraihan, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.


In circular bioeconomy viewpoint, sustainable development of biorefineries requires to use the lignocellulosic biomass completely to produce high value-added bioproducts. The lignin products market was 750 million US$ in 2018 and is predicted to reach 1460 million US$ by the end of 2025. In industrial processes, the large amounts of industrial lignins as technical lignins or biorefinery lignins are formed as by‐products. Annually, about 150-180 million tons of industrial lignins is generated in worldwide. Most of industrial lignins are directly combusted to obtain heat, which not only is a loss of organic matter but also leads to environmental pollution issues. Therefore, developing the lignin-based fertilizers has become an important research topic for eco-friendly agricultural practices. Interestingly, lignin can be used as slow‐release carriers, coating materials, soil conditioners and chelated micro-fertilizers due to its excellent slow-release properties, chelating and other functionalities. Lignin-based fertilizers have several specific properties including the slow dissolution, adsorptivity, biocompatibility, controlled-release, biodegradability, nonvolatility, long-term stability, anti-leaching, low pollution, high fertilizer efficiency, low price and higher biological activity. Lignin can delay the dissolution of the nutrients (nitrogen, phosphate, etc.) in the modified fertilizer to improve the slow-release performance and also delay hydrolysis of urea by inhibiting the soil urease activity and inhibit the conversion of NH4+-N to NO3--N, thereby increasing the utilization of NH4+-N. Lignin‐based fertilizers prepared by sustainable chemical, coating and micro-chelation modifications. This review, exhaustively scrutinizes and reports the recent research advances in the lignin extraction methods, underlying mechanisms, characterization and applications of the above methods for preparing lignin‐based fertilizers.


Ahmad, U.M., Ji, N., Li, H., Wu, Q., Song, C., Liu, Q., Ma, D., Lu, X. (2021). Can lignin be transformed into agrochemicals? Recent advances in the agricultural applications of lignin. Industrial Crops and Products. 170, 113646.
Alemi, H., Kianmehr, M.H., Borghaee, A.M. (2010). Effect of pellet processing of fertilizer on slow-release nitrogen in soil. Asian J. Plant Sci. 9, 74–80.
Antonsson, S., Henriksson, G., Johansson, M., Lindström, M.E. (2008). Low Mw-lignin fractions together with vegetable oils as available oligomers for novel paper-coating applications as hydrophobic barrier. Industrial Crops and Products. 27, 98–103.
Aro, T and Fatehi, P. (2017). Production and Application of Lignosulfonates and Sulfonated Lignin. ChemSusChem 10, 1861–1877.
Azeem, B., KuShaari, K., Man, Z.B., Basit, A., Thanh, T.H. (2014). Review on materials & methods to produce controlled release coated urea fertilizer. J. Control. Release 181, 11–21.
Bajwa, D.S., Pourhashem, G., Ullah, A.H., Bajwa, S.G. (2019). A concise review of current lignin production, applications, products and their environmental impact. Industrial Crops and Products. 139, 111526.
Behin, J and Sadeghi, N. (2016). Utilization of waste lignin to prepare controlled-slow release urea. Int. J. Recycl. Org. Waste Agric. 5, 289–299.
Bouxin, F.P., David Jackson, S., Jarvis, M.C. (2014). Isolation of high quality lignin as a by-product from ammonia percolation pretreatment of poplar wood. Bioresour. Technol. 162, 236–242.
Budzianowski, W.M. (2017). High-value low-volume bioproducts coupled to bioenergies with potential to enhance business development of sustainable biorefineries. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 70, 793–804.
Capanema, E. A., Balakshin, M. Y., Chen, C. L., Gratzl, J. S. (2006). Oxidative ammonolysis of technical lignins. Part 4. Effects of the ammonium hydroxide concentration and pH. J. Wood Chem. Technol, 26, 95-109.
Capanema, E. A., Balakshin, M. Y., Chen, C. L., Gratzl, J. S., Kirkman, A. G. (2002). Oxidative ammonolysis of technical lignins. Part 3. Effect of temperature on the reaction rate. Holzforschung, 56, 402-415.
Capanema, E. A., Balakshin, M. Y., Chen, C. L., Gratzl, J. S., Kirkman, A. G. (2001). Oxidative ammonolysis of technical lignins Part 2. Effect of oxygen pressure. Holzforschung, 55, 405-412.
Capanema, E. A., Balakshin, M. Y., Chen, C. L., Gratzl, J. S., Kirkman, A. G. (2001). Oxidative ammonolysis of technical lignins Part 1. Kinetics of the reaction under isothermal condition at 130°C. Holzforschung, 55, 397-404.
Chen, J., Fan, X., Zhang, L., Chen, X., Sun, S., Sun, R.-C. (2020). Research Progress in Lignin-Based Slow/Controlled Release Fertilizer. ChemSusChem 13, 4356–4366.
Chen, J., Lü, S., Zhang, Z., Zhao, X., Li, X., Ning, P., Liu, M. (2018). Environmentally friendly fertilizers: A review of materials used and their effects on the environment. Sci. Total Environ. 613–614, 829–839.
Chojnacka, K., Moustakas, K., Witek-Krowiak, A. (2020). Bio-based fertilizers: A practical approach towards circular economy. Bioresour. Technol. 295, 122223.
Duan, Y., Pandey, A., Zhang, Z., Awasthi, M.K., Bhatia, S.K., Taherzadeh, M.J. (2020). Organic solid waste biorefinery: Sustainable strategy for emerging circular bioeconomy in China. Ind. Crops Prod. 153, 112568.
Eraghi Kazzaz, A and Fatehi, P. (2020). Technical lignin and its potential modification routes: A mini-review. Industrial Crops and Products. 154, 112732.
Fernández-Pérez, M., Garrido-Herrera, F.J., González-Pradas, E., Villafranca-Sánchez, M., Flores-Céspedes, F. (2008). Lignin and ethylcellulose as polymers in controlled release formulations of urea. J. Appl. Polym. Sci. 108, 3796–3803.
Fernández-Pérez, M., Villafranca-Sánchez, M., Flores-Céspedes, F., Daza-Fernández, I. (2011). Ethylcellulose and lignin as bearer polymers in controlled release formulations of chloridazon. Carbohydr. Polym. 83, 1672–1679.
Fertahi, S., Bertrand, I., Amjoud, M., Oukarroum, A., Arji, M., Barakat, A. (2019). Properties of Coated Slow-Release Triple Superphosphate (TSP) Fertilizers Based on Lignin and Carrageenan Formulations. ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng. 7, 10371–10382.
Fertahi, S., Ilsouk, M., Zeroual, Y., Oukarroum, A., Barakat, A. (2021). Recent trends in organic coating based on biopolymers and biomass for controlled and slow release fertilizers. J. Control. Release 330, 341–361.
Fischer, K and Schiene, R. (2002) Nitrogenous Fertilizers from Lignins — A Review. In: Hu T.Q. (eds) Chemical Modification, Properties, and Usage of Lignin. Springer, Boston, MA.
García, C., Vallejo, A., García, L., Cartagena, M.C., Diéz, J.A. (1997). Nitrogen use efficiency with the application of controlled release fertilizers coated with kraft pine lignin. Soil Sci. Plant Nutr. 43, 443–449.
García, M.C., Díez, J.A., Vallejo, A., García, L., Cartagena, M.C. (1996). Use of Kraft Pine Lignin in Controlled-Release Fertilizer Formulations. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 35, 245–249.
Ghorbani, M., Kianmehr, M.H., Arabhosseini, A., Sarlaki, E., Aghashahi, A., Assadi-Alamouti, A. (2021b). Improving the nutritive value of wheat straw by applying the combined chemical - oxidation treatment in-vitro for use as ruminant feed. Animal Production Research, In press, In press.
Ghorbani, M., Kianmehr, M.H., Sarlaki, E., Ahrari, R., Azadegan, B. (2021a). Improving sustainability and slow-release property of pelletized agro-biowaste compost fertilizer assisted by biodegradable coating. Iranian Journal of Soil and Water Research, In press, In press.
Gu, H., Zhang, Y., Li, X., Li, W., Huang, S. (2019). Lignin improves release behavior of slow-release fertilizers with high content of urea. J. Appl. Polym. Sci. 136, 48238.
Guo, X., Zhang, S., Shan, X. (2008). Adsorption of metal ions on lignin. J. Hazard. Mater. 151, 134–142.
Harmita, H., Karthikeyan, K.G., Pan, X. (2009). Copper and cadmium sorption onto kraft and organosolv lignins. Bioresour. Technol. 100, 6183–6191.
Huang, C, Ragauskas, A.J., Wu, X., Huang, Y., Zhou, X., He, J., Huang, Caoxing, Lai, C., Li, X., Yong, Q. (2018). Co-production of bio-ethanol, xylonic acid and slow-release nitrogen fertilizer from low-cost straw pulping solid residue. Bioresour. Technol. 250, 365–373.
Huang, D., Li, R., Xu, P., Li, T., Deng, R., Chen, S., Zhang, Q. (2020). The cornerstone of realizing lignin value-addition: Exploiting the native structure and properties of lignin by extraction methods. Chem. Eng. J. 402, 126237.
Huang, J., Fu, S., Gan, L.B.T.-L.C. and A. (Eds.) (2019). Chapter 4 - Lignin Chemicals and Their Applications. Elsevier, pp. 79–134.
Jiao, G-J., Peng, P., Sun, S-L., Geng, Z-C., She, D. (2019). Amination of biorefinery technical lignin by Mannich reaction for preparing highly efficient nitrogen fertilizer. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, 127 (15): 544–54.
Kexing, L, and Dehan, W. (1998). Preliminary report on the activation of phosphate rock powder by papermaking waste liquid and lignin. Guangdong Paper, 10(3):14–5.
Klinger, K.M., Liebner, F., Hosoya, T., Potthast, A., Rosenau, T. (2013). Ammoxidation of lignocellulosic materials: formation of nonheterocyclic nitrogenous compounds from monosaccharides. J. Agric. Food Chem. 61, 9015–9026.
Lapierre, C., Monties, B., Meier, D., Faix, O. (1994). Structural investigation of kraft lignins transformed via oxo-ammoniation to Potential nitrogenous fertilizers. Holzforschung 48, 63–68.
Lawrencia, D., Wong, S.K., Low, D.Y.S., Goh, B.H., Goh, J.K., Ruktanonchai, U.R., Soottitantawat, A., Lee, L.H., Tang, S.Y. (2021). Controlled Release Fertilizers: A Review on Coating Materials and Mechanism of Release. Plants (Basel, Switzerland) 10, 238.
Legras-Lecarpentier, D., Stadler, K., Weiss, R., Guebitz, G.M., Nyanhongo, G.S. (2019). Enzymatic Synthesis of 100% Lignin Biobased Granules as Fertilizer Storage and Controlled Slow Release Systems. ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng. 7, 12621–12628.
Li, H., Xiong, L., Chen, Xuefang, Wang, C., Qi, G., Huang, C., Luo, M., Chen, X. (2017). Enhanced enzymatic hydrolysis and acetone-butanol-ethanol fermentation of sugarcane bagasse by combined diluted acid with oxidate ammonolysis pretreatment. Bioresour. Technol. 228, 257–263.
Li, J., Wang, M., She, D., Zhao, Y. (2017). Structural functionalization of industrial softwood kraft lignin for simple dip-coating of urea as highly efficient nitrogen fertilizer. Industrial Crops and Products. 109, 255–265.
Li, T., Lü, S., Ji, Y., Qi, T., Liu, M. (2018). A biodegradable Fe-fertilizer with high mechanical property and sustainable release for potential agriculture and horticulture applications. New J. Chem. 42, 19129–19136.
Li, T., Lü, S., Wang, Z., Huang, M., Yan, J., Liu, M. (2021). Lignin-based nanoparticles for recovery and separation of phosphate and reused as renewable magnetic fertilizers. Sci. Total Environ. 765, 142745.
Li, T., Lü, S., Zhang, S., Gao, C., Liu, M. (2018). Lignin-based multifunctional fertilizer for immobilization of Pb (II) in contaminated soil. J. Taiwan Inst. Chem. Eng. 91, 643–652.
Liao, J.J., Latif, N.H.A., Trache, D., Brosse, N., Hussin, M.H. (2020). Current advancement on the isolation, characterization and application of lignin. Int. J. Biol. Macromol. 162, 985–1024.
Lin, C., Jim, Y., Zhongzheng, L. (1998). The application of lignin in fertilizers. China Paper, 10(2):68–70.
Lobato-Peralta, D.R., Duque-Brito, E., Villafán-Vidales, H.I., Longoria, A., Sebastian, P.J., Cuentas-Gallegos, A.K., Arancibia-Bulnes, C.A., Okoye, P.U. (2021). A review on trends in lignin extraction and valorization of lignocellulosic biomass for energy applications. J. Clean. Prod. 293, 126123.
Meier, D., Zúñiga-Partida, V., Ramírez-Cano, F., Hahn, N.-C., Faix, O. (1994). Conversion of technical lignins into slow-release nitrogenous fertilizers by ammoxidation in liquid phase. Bioresour. Technol. 49, 121–128.
Meisheng, X. (2001). Papermaking black liquor solidification technology and organic compound fertilizer fertilizer efficiency test. Environment and Development, 16(2):17–8.
Mulder, W.J., Gosselink, R.J.A., Vingerhoeds, M.H., Harmsen, P.F.H., Eastham, D. (2011). Lignin based controlled release coatings. Industrial Crops and Products. 34, 915–920.
Nizami, A.S., Rehan, M., Waqas, M., Naqvi, M., Ouda, O.K.., Shahzad, K., Miandad, R., Khan, M.Z., Syamsiro, M., Ismail, I.M.I., Pant, D. (2017). Waste biorefineries: Enabling circular economies in developing countries. Bioresour. Technol. 241, 1101–1117.
Poveda-Giraldo, J.A., Solarte-Toro, J.C., Cardona Alzate, C.A. (2021). The potential use of lignin as a platform product in biorefineries: A review. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 138, 110688.
Ragauskas, A.J., Beckham, G.T., Biddy, M.J., Chandra, R., Chen, F., Davis, M.F., Davison, B.H., Dixon, R.A., Gilna, P., Keller, M., Langan, P., Naskar, A.K., Saddler, J.N., Tschaplinski, T.J., Tuskan, G.A., Wyman, C.E. (2014). Lignin Valorization: Improving Lignin Processing in the Biorefinery. Science (80) 344, 1246843.
Ramirez, F., Gonzalez, V., Crespo, M., Meier, D., Faix, O., Zúñiga, V. (1997). Ammoxidized kraft lignin as a slow-release fertilizer tested on orghum vulgare. Bioresour Technol, 61(1): 43–6.
Rotondo, F., Coniglio, R., Cantera, L., Di Pascua, I., Clavijo, L., Dieste, A. (2018). Lignin-based coatings for controlled P-release fertilizer consisting of granulated simple superphosphate. Holzforschung 72, 637–643.
Sadeghi, N. and Behin, J. (2020). Modeling of nitrogen release in urea-modified lignin matrix. Journal of Modeling in Engineering. 18, 1–11.
Sadeghi, N., Shayesteh, K., Lotfiman, S. (2017). Effect of Modified Lignin Sulfonate on Controlled-Release Urea in Soil. Journal of Polymers and the Environment. 25, 792–799.
Sarlaki, E., Kermani, A.M., Kianmehr, M.H., Asefpour Vakilian, K., Hosseinzadeh-Bandbafha, H., Ma, N.L., Aghbashlo, M., Tabatabaei, M., Lam, S.S., (2021a). Improving sustainability and mitigating environmental impacts of agro-biowaste compost fertilizer by pelletizing-drying. Environ. Pollut. 285, 117412.
Sarlaki, E., Kianmehr, M.H., Ghorbani, M. (2021b). Analytical methods for assessing the quality of sugarcane bagasse compost and improving the physicomechanical properties toward densification. Environmental Sciences, In press, In press.
Sarlaki, E., Kianmehr, M.H., Ghorbani, M., Azadegan, B. (2021c). Optimization of pelletizing process of sugarcane bagasse compost using response surface methodology and evaluation of release rate of nitrogen from pellet. Iranian Journal of Soil and Water Research, 52 (4), 1117-1133.
Sarlaki, E., Sharif Paghaleh, A., Kianmehr, M.H., Asefpour Vakilian, K. (2021d). Valorization of lignite wastes into humic acids: Process optimization, energy efficiency and structural features analysis. Renewable Energy, 163, 105–22.
Sarlaki, E., Sharif Paghaleh, A., Kianmehr, M.H., Asefpour Vakilian, K. (2019a). Extraction and purification of humic acids from lignite wastes using alkaline treatment and membrane ultrafiltration. Journal of Cleaner Production, 235, 712-23.
Sarlaki, E., Sharif Paghaleh, A., Kianmehr, M.H., Asefpour Vakilianm, K. (2020). Chemical, Spectral and Morphological Characterization of Humic Acids Extracted and Membrane Purified from Lignite. Chemical & Chemistry Technology, 14:353–61.
Sarlaki, E., Sharif Paghaleh, A., Kianmehr, M.H., Mirsaeedghazi, H. (2017). Effect of processing temperature on membrane ultrafiltration of lignite coals-derived humic alkaline extracts, membrane performance and humic acid purity. Iranian Journal of Biosystems Engineering, 48:475–89.
Sarlaki, E., Sokhandan Toomaj, M., Sharif Paghaleh, A., Kianmehr, M.H., Nikousefat, O. (2019b). Extraction of humic acid from lignite coals using stirred tank reactors (STRs): Assessment of process parameters and final product characterization. Iranian Journal of Soil and Water Research, 50:1111–25.
Schneider, W.D.H., Dillon, A.J.P., Camassola, M. (2021). Lignin nanoparticles enter the scene: A promising versatile green tool for multiple applications. Biotechnol. Adv. 47, 107685.
Sharif Paghaleh, A., Sarlaki, E., Kianmehr, M.H., Shakiba, N. (2017). Study of spectral, structural and chemical characteristics of humic acids isolated from coalfield of Iran. Iranian Journal of Soil and Water Research, 48:1145–58.
Shayesteh, K., Mohammadzadeh, ghasem, Zamanloo, M. (2020). Study and optimization of parameters affecting the acetylation process of lignin sulfonate biopolymer. Int. J. Biol. Macromol. 163, 1810–1820.
Sipponen, M.H., Rojas, O.J., Pihlajaniemi, V., Lintinen, K., Österberg, M. (2017). Calcium Chelation of Lignin from Pulping Spent Liquor for Water-Resistant Slow-Release Urea Fertilizer Systems. ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng. 5, 1054–1061.
Tajinia, R., Kianmehr, M.H., Sarlaki, E., Sharif Paghaleh, A., Mirsaeedghazi, H. (2020). Extracting humic acids from spend mushroom compost (SMC) by alkaline treatment and membrane ultrafiltration. Iranian Journal of Biosystems Engineering, 50, 847–61.
Tribot, A., Amer, G., Abdou Alio, M., de Baynast, H., Delattre, C., Pons, A., Mathias, J.-D., Callois, J.-M., Vial, C., Michaud, P., Dussap, C.-G. (2019). Wood-lignin: Supply, extraction processes and use as bio-based material. Eur. Polym. J. 112, 228–240.
Ubando, A.T., Felix, C.B., Chen, W.-H. (2020). Biorefineries in circular bioeconomy: A comprehensive review. Bioresour. Technol. 299, 122585.
Venkata Mohan, S., Dahiya, S., Amulya, K., Katakojwala, R., Vanitha, T.K. (2019). Can circular bioeconomy be fueled by waste biorefineries — A closer look. Bioresour. Technol. Reports 7, 100277.
Wang, B., Chen, T.-Y., Wang, H.-M., Li, H.-Y., Liu, C.-F., Wen, J.-L. (2018). Amination of biorefinery technical lignins using Mannich reaction synergy with subcritical ethanol depolymerization. Int. J. Biol. Macromol. 107, 426–435.
Wang, B., Wen, J.-L., Sun, S.-L., Wang, H.-M., Wang, S.-F., Liu, Q.-Y., Charlton, A., Sun, R.-C. (2017). Chemosynthesis and structural characterization of a novel lignin-based bio-sorbent and its strong adsorption for Pb (II). Industrial Crops and Products. 108, 72–80.
Wang, D.H., Peng, J.J., Liao, Z.W.J. (2003). Preparation of Urea Coated with Lignin (LCU) and Its Fertilizer Efficiency Test. Agro-Environ. Sci, 22, pp. 185-188.
Wang, H., Chen, X., Zhang, L., Li, Z., Fan, X., Sun, S. (2021). Efficient production of lignin-based slow-release nitrogen fertilizer via microwave heating. Industrial Crops and Products. 166, 113481.
Wang, X., Zhang, Y., Hao, C., Dai, X., Zhou, Z., Si, N. (2014). Ultrasonic-assisted synthesis of aminated lignin by a Mannich reaction and its decolorizing properties for anionic azo-dyes. RSC Adv. 4, 28156–28164.
Yanli, M., Ruru, W., Guizhen, F. (2012). Preparation and sustained release properties of polyacrylic acid grafted alkali lignin-based iron fertilizer. Journal of Agricultural Engineering, 28(18): 208–14.
Yiqin, Y., Baoyu, L., Yunfeng, C., et al. (2009). Study on Preparation of slow-release nitrogen fertilizer by sodium lignin lignosulfonate. Zhonghua Paper, 29(13): 55–8.
Zafari, A., Kianmehr, M.H. (2012). Effect of raw material properties and die geometry on the density of biomass pellets from composted municipal solid waste. BioResources 7, 4704–4714.
Zafari, A., Kianmehr, M.H. (2014). Factors affecting mechanical properties of biomass pellet from compost. Environ. Technol. (United Kingdom) 35, 478–486.
Zevallos Torres, L.A., Lorenci Woiciechowski, A., de Andrade Tanobe, V.O., Karp, S.G., Guimarães Lorenci, L.C., Faulds, C., Soccol, C.R. (2020). Lignin as a potential source of high-added value compounds: A review. J. Clean. Prod. 263, 121499.