The earliest attempts at manufacturing synthetic vanillin used renewable feedstock. The first route used oil of cloves, containing eugenol, as the starting point. The oil was usually extracted from cloves using steam distillation.
Its manufacture from lignin contained in waste from the paper industry relies on trees, a constantly renewable resource. For a process to be sustainable, however, it is not sufficient simply to use a renewable resource. The chemicals used in making vanillin from the lignin in spent liquor result in a waste management problem. The lignin route is still used by some manufacturers.
The majority of vanillin is currently produced using
petrochemical feedstock. Although in
the long term this is not sustainable, the process has a much better
atom economy, is therefore less
wasteful and more energy efficient than the lignin route.