The characterization and quantification of functional groups in technical lignins are among the chief obstacles of the utilization of this highly abundant biopolymer. Although several techniques were developed for this purpose, there is still a need for quick, cost-efficient, and reliable quantification methods for lignin. In this paper, three sampling techniques for fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy were assessed both qualitatively and quantitatively, delineating how these affected the resultant spectra. The attenuated total reflectance (ATR) of neat powders and DMSO-d6 solutions, as well as transmission FTIR using the KBr pelleting method (0.5 wt%), were investigated and compared for eight lignin samples. The ATR of neat lignins provided a quick and easy method, but the signal-to-noise ratios in the afforded spectra were limited. The ATR of the DMSO-d6 solutions was highly concentration dependent, but at a 30 wt%, acceptable signal-to-noise ratios were obtained, allowing for the lignins to be studied in the dissolved state. The KBr pelleting method gave a significant improvement in the smoothness and resolution of the resultant spectra compared to the ATR techniques. Subsequently, the content of phenolic OH groups was calculated from each FTIR mode, and the best correlation was seen between the transmission mode using KBr pellets and the ATR of the neat samples (R2 = 0.9995). Using the titration measurements, the total OH and the phenolic OH group content of the lignin samples were determined as well. These results were then compared to the FTIR results, which revealed an under-estimation of the phenolic OH groups from the non-aqueous potentiometric titration, which was likely due to the differences in the pKa between the lignin and the calibration standard 4-hydroxybenzoic acid. Further, a clear correlation was found between the lower Mn and the increased phenolic OH group content via SEC analyses. The work outlined in this paper give complementary views on the characterization and quantification of technical lignin samples via FTIR.
Keywords: FTIR; KBr pellet; attenuated total reflectance; kraft lignin; lignin; lignin characterization; non-aqueous potentiometric titration; size exclusion chromatography; soda lignin.