Effects of lignin degradation on paper-based materials in extreme conditions

Lignin is a natural product that represents a large part of the Earth’s biosphere and is an important source of energy, as well as a constituent of many industrial products. Among others, it is present in environmentally friendly packaging coatings and in paper produced from wood pulp.

In this project, we will explore the effect of lignin degradation on cellulose-based materials listed above in two “extreme” contexts: during long-term environmental degradation and during composting. The results will enable an understanding of the impact of lignin on long-term degradation of lignin-rich paper in heritage collections and a better design of parameters affecting biodegradability of lignin-rich materials.


The projects goals are:

  • To assess the validity of existing paper damage functions for lignin-containing paper
  • To develop analytical methods to follow the accumulation of lignin-based material degradation products in composting media and in storage environments
  • To obtain understanding of the impact of lignin degradation on the degradation of cellulose under composting conditions and in alum-sized archival paper in storage

Planned research:

  • The HSLL collection of sacrificial historic paper will be investigated with spectroscopic (Raman) and chromatographic (LC-MS, IC, SEC, GC-MS) methods to analyse lignin, resin acid and cellulose degradation products after accelerated degradation at raised temperature and humidity.
  • The rate of paper degradation will be followed as MW loss of cellulose and modelled using multivariate data analysis techniques. The damage function for lignin-free paper will be evaluated and corrected if necessary to include paper containing lignin.
  • Four types of lignin from plants will be isolated, characterised, and used for coating formulations. The coating properties will then be evaluated.
  • Biodegradability and disintegration will be tested for the prepared materials, the processes monitored by spectroscopical and LC-MS methods. The relationship between lignin content in the coating and the rate of degradation of the material as a whole will be explored.


The project J4-3085 is funded by ARRS (Slovenian Research Agency) and involves:

Heritage Science Laboratory Ljubljana at UL Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology (Ida Kraševec, Irena Kralj-Cigić, Matija Strlič)

Pulp and Paper Institute in Ljubljana (Mateja Zajc, Bojan Borin, Daša Medvešček, Gregor Lavrič)

Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia (Polonca Ropret, Klara Retko, Lea Legan)

Please contact us if you need more information or if you are interested in collaboration.

Scientific achievements:

  • KRAŠEVEC Ida, LEGAN Lea, RETKO Klara, ROPRET Polona, JUHANT GRKMAN Janja, BORIN Bojan, ZAJC Mateja, KRALJ CIGIĆ Irena, STRLIČ Matija. Effects of lignin on the degradation of historic paper. 1st conference of the Slovenian node of the European Research. University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia Infrastructure for Heritage Science, 22nd November, 2023 https://www.e-rihs.si/uploads/E-RIHS.SI%201st%20Conference%20BoA.pdf [COBISS.SI-ID 176379395]
  • NOVAK Morana, GRAU-BOVE Josep, DE STEFANI Caroline, CHECKLEY-SCOTT Caroline, KRAŠEVEC Ida, KRALJ CIGIĆ Irena, ELNAGGAR Abdelrazek. Evaluation and modelling of the environmental performance of archival boxes, part 1: material and environmental assessment. Heritage science, 2024 12:24 https://doi.org/10.1186/s40494-024-01137-0 [COBISS.SI-ID 182415619]
  • ELNAGGAR Abdelrazek. Nine principles of green heritage science: life cycle assessment as a tool enabling green transformation. Heritage Science, 2024 12:13  https://doi.org/10.1186/s40494-023-01114-z [COBISS.SI-ID 180581123]
  • EBEID Hassan, DI GIANVINCENZO Fabiana, KRALJ CIGIĆ Irena, STRLIČ Matija. Chromatographic analysis of natural dyes
    in mediaeval Islamic paper. Heritage Science, 2024 12:13 https://doi.org/10.1186/s40494-023-01117-w [COBISS.SI-ID 180592387]
  • COPPOLA Floriana, FRIGAU Luca, MARKELJ Jernej, MALEŠIČ Jasna, CONVERSANO Claudio, STRLIČ Matija. Near-infrared spectroscopy and machine learning for accurate dating of historical books. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2023, p. A-J. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/jacs.3c02835 [COBISS.SI-ID 153177603]
  • KRAVOS Aleksander, KRAŠEVEC Ida, KRALJ CIGIĆ Irena, STRLIČ Matija. Lignin and rosin as a potential source of organic acids in papers, 28th Annual Meeting of the Slovenian Chemical Society, 21.-23. September 2022, Portorose, Slovenija (p. 55). [COBISS.SI-ID 122889475]
  • KRAŠEVEC Ida, KRAVOS Aleksander, KRALJ CIGIĆ Irena, STRLIČ Matija. Organic acids in naturally aged lignin-containing paper, 28th Annual Meeting of the Slovenian Chemical Society, 21.-23. September 2022, Portorose, Slovenija (p. 57). [COBISS.SI-ID 122928387]

  • KRAVOS Aleksander, KRAŠEVEC Ida, KRALJ CIGIĆ Irena, STRLIČ Matija. Emissions of volatile organic acids from lignin and resin acids, 15th International Conference on Indoor Air Quality in Heritage and Historic Environments: IAQ, 14.-16. September 2022, Ljubljana, Slovenia, pp. 38-39. https://www.e-rihs.si/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/15th-IAQ22-Ljubljana_ps_Final.pdf. [COBISS.SI-ID 122639619]

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