Potentially Toxic Chemicals in Thermal Conversion of Biomass Need to Be Investigated, Controlled

QiujuGao 416Bio4Energy PhD researcher Qiuju Gao checks torrefied material for toxic organic chemicals in a laboratory at the University of York. Photo by courtesy of Qiuju Gao.In large-scale production of heat and electricity in the developed world, emissions from biomass burning are generally well controlled. Recently, however, new high-technological methods have been invented that are designed as a pre-treatment step to various forms of temperature-dependent conversion of renewable biomass to fuels, chemicals and materials, often in combination with heat and/or electricity production.

Because in such thermal conversion every new process step could be a potential source of undesirable emissions, and because these need to be controlled for the purpose of safeguarding human health and the environment, Bio4Energy scientists set out to investigate the matter with a focus on toxic emissions in relation to pre-treatment technologies that are still in their infancy: Microwave-assisted pyrolysis and torrefaction. While the former is designed to produce a bio oil using microwave technology (and which oil then may be further refined into value-added specialty chemicals), the other is a form of roasting of the biomass which renders light-weight and hydrophobic solid pellets or briquettes. Both methods are performed in an oxygen free, or near oxygen-free, environment.

In a set of studies carried out by Bio4Energy PhD student This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and colleagues at Umeå University in Sweden and at the University of York in the UK, the researchers wanted to find out whether each of the two technologies gave rise to the formation of dioxins or dioxin-like substances that are toxic organic compounds that can spread over large distances, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and animals and persist for a long time in the environment. These chemicals are regulated under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which is a global treaty agreed under the auspices of the United Nations in 2001. It aims for countries to phase out the use of POPs since these are known to induce cancer and immune system deficiencies in humans.

Read more: Potentially Toxic Chemicals in Thermal Conversion of Biomass Need to Be Investigated, Controlled

LCA Appropriate Tool for Assessing Environmental Impact of Forest Products, But Beware of Uncertainties

Frida Royne Photo by FRSystem analysis student in Bio4Energy Frida Røyne will be defending her PhD thesis on LCA and forest products 22 April at Umeå, Sweden. Photo by courtesy of Frida Røyne.A well-known method for assessing the environmental and climate change impacts of products over their life-cycle is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Forest products are no exception in this respect. However, while there has been rising interest in applying LCA to check the impact of forest products designed to replace similar ones refined from fossil oil, in the last decade a discussion has been ongoing about how to account for greenhouse gas emissions and from which sources.

LCA is one of the most commonly used methods for environmental life-cycle assessments, but the correctness of an assessment's outcome relies heavily on the researcher's choice of method in designing his or her study, as well as the availability of relevant input data.

Tomorrow, a Bio4Energy student who has dwelled into both these issues will be defending her thesis on Exploring the Relevance of Uncertainty in the Life Cycle Assessment of Forest Products.

Part of the new research and development platform Bio4Energy System Analysis and Bioeconomy, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of Umeå University used recent cases studies—such as a "Forest Chemistry" project in which chemical and forestry industry in Sweden joined forces to try to assess whether a chemical industry cluster at Stenungsund could feasibly replace part of its fossil raw material base with forest-sourced feedstock—to draw conclusions as to whether LCA is a suitable method by which to assess forest products. However, being a generalist and employed by the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Røyne also was interested in looking at the development of LCA as a method of systems analysis, its potential flaws and the way in which these were being communicated.

Her chief conclusion is that LCA is indeed an appropriate method for assessing the environmental and climate change impact of forest product systems, but that the use of additional methods—such as life-cycle management or scenario analysis—may be warranted and that, in each individual case, researchers have to ask themselves whether there are uncertainties and discuss these in their studies.

Read more: LCA Appropriate Tool for Assessing Environmental Impact of Forest Products, But Beware of...

Lack of Funding Puts End to Large-scale Pilot Trials of BioDME and Bio-based Methanol in Sweden - Audio

LTU Green Fuels at Pitea SEBiofuel production at large-scale pilot operations at Piteå, Sweden will cease. Photo by courtesy of the Luleå University of Technology.

LTU Green Fuels at Piteå—Sweden's only large-scale pilot operations for the production of liquid biofuel from forestry residue—are going to cease its activities due to lack of funding, according to a press release issued by its owner, the Luleå University of Technology.

Despite the pilot plant's having delivered about 1000 tonnes of clean, bio-based dimethyl ether (DME) and methanol, and despite the product having been successfully trialled as fuel in commercial trucking operations by the car manufacturer Volvo, the Swedish Energy Agency had decided not to extend funding beyond the 100 million Swedish kroner it had granted for the past three years, the press release said. It appears that the current 17 employees at LTU Green Fuels will soon have to look around for other work.

"I think it's a shame that we have to discontinue the work at the plant but I am nevertheless hopeful that the technology [developed there] has a future. It has been thoroughly verified in our pilot plant", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., professor at the LTU and part of the research and development platform Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion Technologies.

In successive interviews since the start of Bio4Energy in 2010, he has been pointing out that for industry to take the step to commercialisation, a long-term and stable political framework is needed that is supportive of a large-scale roll out of second-generation or more advanced biofuels and co-products.

Read more: Lack of Funding Puts End to Large-scale Pilot Trials of BioDME and Bio-based Methanol in Sweden -...

Bio4Energy Institutes Part of State Take Over of RISE Institutes of Sweden

MM SOL 14416 03In Bio4Energy, Magnus Marklund and Sven-Olof Lundqvist (left) represent SP ETC and Innventia, respectively.Two of the Bio4Energy partners—or member organisations—are being tied more closely together as RISE Institutes of Sweden consolidates and becomes a fully state-owned consortium of research institutes. The SP Energy Technology Center (SP ETC) and Innventia are the two Bio4Energy member organisations affected, as well as Bio4Energy partners attached to the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden (SP).

"This is the result of a development project that has run for two years with the aim of making actors in Sweden's [research] institute sector come together. In this way RISE will add on six new divisions", according to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., CEO at the SP ETC and part of the research and development platform Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion Technologies. From having been an independent research foundation, his organisation based at Piteå in northern Sweden was snapped up by SP only late 2014.

"For us it means that we become part of an even larger company. We are a subsidiary to SP with its 1,500 employees and fully owned by them. RISE for its part has about 2,500 people working for them... I think we will be strengthened by coming together and creating something larger. At the end of the day it is about the [Swedish] government and Ministry of Enterprise [and Innovation] receiving the means to support the industry sector in a better way. There will be more financing and hopefully we will have an expanded mandate to set our research agenda. When it comes to the parties in Bio4Energy, this will also affect Innventia", Marklund said.

Read more: Bio4Energy Institutes Part of State Take Over of RISE Institutes of Sweden

F1000 Recommends Bio4Energy Tool for Cell-trait Quantification

Urs Fischer Photo by Anna StromUrs Fischer talks up some hybrid aspen plants in a greenhouse at the Umeå Plant Science Centre at Umeå University in Sweden. Photo by Anna Strom©.

A study by Bio4Energy researchers and partners was recommended by F1000 faculty as an important article in biology. The Faculty of 1000, or F1000, is an international group of academics—faculty members—who have tasked themselves with identifying and recommending the best research output in biology and medicine when it comes to peer-reviewed scientific articles.

The study by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and others gives an overview of a new package of analytical tools for quantifying large amounts of cellular traits, called phenotypes, in plants such as trees. Using the tools, researchers will be able to extract quantitative data from raw images obtained using state-of-the-art fluorescent microscopy. This has not previously been possible and the researchers expect this feature to speed up the process where large amounts of quantitative information need to be assessed. Hall and Fischer are part of the research platform Bio4Energy Feedstock and affiliated with Umeå University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, respectively.

The F1000 faculty member making the recommendation, David G. Oppenheimer of the University of Florida at Gainsville, U.S.A. stated in his motivation:

"The authors' method allows segmentation of images obtained by laser scanning confocal microscopy (or other optical sectioning methods of fluorescently labelled material) followed by assignment of cell types using the Random Forest machine learning algorithm.... I expect that this package will be useful for large-scale quantitative trait loci mapping projects or any projects that require quantification of cellular phenotypes for thousands of individuals."

Read more: F1000 Recommends Bio4Energy Tool for Cell-trait Quantification

Biochar as Water Treatment Agent in New Bio4Energy Project - Video

StinaJansson 316Today Stina Jansson will be giving a public lecture on her reserach project Agricultural Residues for Water Purification in Africa.

Can local biomass waste be used to help solve the problem of polluted waste water in developing countries where water is a scarce resource? Bio4Energy scientists think so. Today one of them is taking her project on the matter to an audience of café goers downtown Umeå, in northern Sweden.

"Water scarcity is a huge problem in many parts of the world and it is not getting better. In many places they use waste water in a way that we in the developing countries would never do. Sewage water is used in agriculture [for irrigation] and we know that the crops take up toxic substances, which people proceed to eat… It affects the health of those who are already vulnerable", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.of the platform Bio4Energy Environment and Nutrient Recycling.

Working with local stakeholders in Tanzania and Morocco, Jansson and her team are going to test whether by using simple stoves built from mud or manure, local agricultural waste can be carbonised and turned into biochar. The carbonised residues will be evaluated both as a soil amendment, sucking pollution from irrigation water hitting the soil and as an agent that captures toxic substances in simple water-filtering appliances.

Read more: Biochar as Water Treatment Agent in New Bio4Energy Project - Video

Clean-burning Cooking Solutions, Electricity, Being Developed for Africa

The world needs clean-burning stoves for use in countryside households in third world, the Umeå Renewable Energy Meeting (UREM) 2016 heard today. Many such households, for instance in Sub-Saharan Africa, rely on burning of untreated wood or agricultural residues inside the home and in simple appliances with few or no checks on polluting emissions.

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Although international initiatives such as the Global Cookstove Alliance have made great strides in the right direction, the effect of emissions on human health of particulate matter and soot are still not well understood, Bio4Energy researcher This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. told the UREM conference. Boman leads a cross-disciplinary project in which Bio4Energy researchers from Umeå University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences collaborate with the Stockholm Environment Institute and African non-governmental organisations, of which the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya, to evaluate current so-called clean-burning cookstoves and develop medium-sized facilities for electricity production in the Kenyan countryside.

Read more: Clean-burning Cooking Solutions, Electricity, Being Developed for Africa

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