Joakim Lundgren, associate professor at the Luleå University of Technology, heads the R&D platform Bio4Energy System Analysis and Bioeconomy. Photo by Bio4Energy.Feedstock for sustainable biofuel production. That is what the industry and research community tell us they want more of, of kinds that are economically and environmentally sustainable, as well as socially acceptable. Notably, there have been calls for focusing research and development (R&D) efforts on developing new types of tailor-made feedstock, such as Bio4Energy’s feedstock researchers do when they try to design and experimentally grow hybrid aspen for the purpose of making biofuel or nanocellulose for the production of specific bio-based materials. Many of the Bio4Energy partner organisations are involved in this effort.
A Bio4Energy scientist at Umeå University (UmU) has won funds for conducting research that will feed into a Trash to Gas initiative started in 2012 by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and which will be stepped up in connection with the preparations of NASA astronauts' first-ever manned trip to the planet Mars in the 2030s. The trip to outer space is longer and further from Earth than any of NASA's previous manned trips and implies new challenges when it comes to handling and disposal of waste such as used garments and towels, spent food packaging, human waste and paper products. Notably, whatever is leftover cannot be smelly, nor bulky and, ideally, should be recycled for re-use.
Researchers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center have built a prototype reactor designed to make something useful from the trash astronauts accumulate in space. The device incinerates garbage to produce methane, oxygen and water--which can be used for rocket fuel, breathing air and for life support. Original video clip and report by George Diller posted on Youtube, 20 March 2013.
Are mixed combustion fuels, based on different types of waste and designed for specific purposes, a thing of the future? Photos by courtesy of Mar Edo.In Sweden, toxic emissions to air from incineration of domestically-sourced municipal solid waste are generally well controlled. Moreover, in accordance with the waste hierarchy adopted by the European Union in its 2008 Waste Framework Directive, re-use and recycling is favoured above recovery. Sweden thus manages to do away with about half of the total 4.4 million tonnes of waste generated annually by its households, institutions and commercial actors before the incineration option is put to use.
However, heat recovery and electricity generation following waste incineration has become a business and the country has the capacity to burn more household waste than the 2.3 million tonnes that its citizens supply. In 2015 alone, 1.3 million tonnes of waste were imported, mainly from other European countries, and used for such waste-to-energy recovery. And when waste becomes an industry in itself, there are bound to be actors out there thinking about how to make it cleaner and finding new uses for the refuse by integrating different technologies.
Bio4Energy researcher Stina Jansson will contribute to a Trash to Gas project by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in its preparations for sending humans into deep space aboard its International Space Station. Photo by Bio4Energy.A Bio4Energy scientist at Umeå University has won funds for conducting research that will feed into a Trash to Gas initiative started in 2012 by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and which will be stepped up in connection with the preparations of NASA astronauts' first-ever manned trip to the planet Mars in the 2030s.
Funding body the Kempe Foundations supports the fellowship and awards it on an annual basis for the purpose of "supporting young researchers early in their career", according to a press release from the LTU. The Gunnar Öquist Fellowship consists of a SEK3 million (€310,000) kroner award to be used for research activities, as well as a personal prize of SEK50,000 kroner, and the mentorship for three years of professor emeritus Öquist. For the third time since the awarding of the fellowship started five years ago, it goes to a Bio4Energy scientist. Previous Bio4Energy awardees are Judith Felten and Edouard Pesquet, both of the research and development platform Bio4Energy Feedstock.
"It feels great! It’s a confidence boost and some kind of sign that the LTU believes in me. It shows that I grew in the last five years", Umeki said.
The research environment Bio4Energy has been granted a continuation of it activities at least until the end of 2020.
"In line with the government directives, the strategic research areas hosted by Umeå University will continue. However, this is on the condition that you continue having a set aside, strategic funds, so that we will be able to adjust our activities in accordance with any new directives that the government may specify" in its forthcoming Letter of Regulation, said Sommarin, who is also chair of the Bio4Energy Board, commenting on the research bill.
"When they first called me [to announce the prize] I couldn't believe it was true. This is such a great encouragement. I am very happy", said Oksman whose research group creates nanocellulose applications and bio-based composites materials using nanotechnology. Oksman was a platform leader in Bio4Energy between the years 2010 and 2015. Currently she and her group are members of the research and development platform Bio4Energy Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion Technologies.
Bio4Energy researchers Torbjörn Lestander (left), Mikael Thyrel and Sylvia Larsson won funding for a test-bed pilot which technology is expected to be essential for the efficient operation of biorefineries and biomass combustion facilities. Photo by Bio4Energy.
An instrument that can help biorefinery industry and bioenergy utilities detect and remove or neutralise elements that scupper the process or pollute the environment directly as the biomass is fed into the conversion or combustion process. It sounds like every industrial operator's dream, does it not?
For operators in northern Sweden it could come true within a few years, thanks to funding just granted to Bio4Energy researchers for the purchase of a new instrument drawing on neutron technology for the rapid and advanced online characterisation of woody materials, biomass ash and organic waste.
"The instrument allows for a considerable advancement when it comes to technology since the neutrons have a depth of penetration of tens of centimetres into the test material, which opens up the possibility rapidly to characterise large volumes of heterogeneous material", the researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) say in their application to the funding provider, the Kempe Foundations.
"This means that the technology can be placed on a conveyor belt which makes it a true online technique with a large potential to realise the necessary characterisation needed for process control in resource-efficient and flexible biorefineries of the future", they go on.