Discovery of Mechanism behind Organisation of Plant Cell Wall Raises Hopes for Biorefinery Development

EP RES break 17915Bio4Energy researchers Edouard Pesquet and Delphine Ménard in the laboratory at the Umeå Plant Science Centre in Sweden, checking on some of the proteins they found. Photo by Bio4Energy.

Plant biologists have long tried to come up with a method for making trees produce large amounts of easily extractable biomass for making renewable products such as biofuels and "green" chemicals. Indeed, international conferences such as Lignin 2014 have seen scores or well-respected scientistsbiologists and chemists alikebrood the reasons why successful attempts to increase biomass production have led to the making of sample plants whose stems and branches sag in sad poses or to increased difficulty at the steps of extracting and separating the main components of wood: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.

Whereas most of these attempts were aimed at trying to increase the production of biomass within the plant cell, a team of scientists based in Sweden and the UK came up with the idea to try to lay bare the processes responsible for the organisation of the cells in the plant's secondary cell wall. Thus the focus is no longer on maximising biomass production, but rather on finding out the exact way in which a plant goes about building its cell walls from within and who is responsible for doing what in that process. The researchers found as many as 605 proteins hard at work, performing specific and mostly non-overlapping tasks to control aspects of the cell wall's organisation such as its thickness, homogeneity, cortical position and patterns.

"We tried to unravel the processes organising the cell. [What we found is that] the cell wall needs to be placed and organised specifically for wood cells to work. We have identified genes or proteins implicated in the control of this mechanism", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., the Bio4Energy researcher who led the international study published in the well-respected The Plant Cell scientific journal.

Read more: Discovery of Mechanism behind Organisation of Plant Cell Wall Raises Hopes for Biorefinery...

This Is Bio4Energy

Bio4Energy wants to thank its members, stakeholders and funders for its five first years of building a research environment that links up key academic and business organisations actively trying to promote biorefinery—the invention and production of advanced biofuels, bio-based chemicals and materials from woody biomass or organic waste.

To do so, and to spread the word further afield, Bio4Energy would like to show you two short films that are an attempt to summarise who we are and what we do.

In film one, the Bio4Energy programme manager takes viewers by the hand and describes the fundaments of the research environment. We also step into the working world of three Bio4Energy Research and Development Platforms: Feedstock, Pretreatment and Fractionation, as well as Catalysis and Separation. We visit the scientists’ greenhouse were hybrid aspen plants are grown to make better trees for bio-based production and Sweden's only pilot plant for the roasting of biomass—torrefaction—for the ease of handling and converting woody and starch-based biomass into fuels and chemicals.

Bio4Energy - A Biorefinery Research Environment from Bio4Energy on Vimeo.


In film two, we meet the coordinator of the Bio4Energy Graduate School who says students interested in biorefinery based on wood or organic waste will get a "unique" experience in the Bio4Energy Graduate School. We hear about the work on Bio4Energy's "process" platforms: The Bio4Energy Thermochemical and Biochemical Platform, respectively; and tour the thermal conversion whizzes' labs at Umeå University.

Bio4Energy - Biorefinery Research & Education from Bio4Energy on Vimeo.

Since June 2015, Bio4Energy has a new page in the Swedish-language section of the Umeå University website. From there, most of Bio4Energy's press releases in Swedish may be accessed. There are also an interview with the Bio4Energy programme manager for the years 2010-2016 and general information about Bio4Energy. An even more recent interview can be accessed on page 9 and 10 of the latest issue of Tänk magazine in which This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. predicts that societies will have become bio-based in the year of 2065.

Bio4Energy has gone from being a constellation of 44 enthusiastic researchers in 2009, to becoming a full-blown research environment with about 240 members across three universities, four research institutes and with a network of industrial partners in Sweden and beyond.

Thank you to our sponsors, members and stakeholders for believing in Bio4Energy!

Year of 2015: A Look Back & Ahead

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The wheels have been spinning fast in Bio4Energy these past six months. Barely had the Swedish energy minister Ibrahim Baylan been to visit Bio4Energy at Umeå, Sweden, when it was announced that one of the Bio4Energy member organisations had been taken over by the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, and become the SP Energy Technology Center.

Biorefinery à la Bio4Energy was the focus of the Umeå Renewable Energy Meeting 2015, in March, and kept many a Bio4Energy researcher busy in its run up and during the event. Come late April, the evaluation by Swedish authorities of Bio4Energy’s first five years in operation was released and appeared to give overall good marks for performance and leadership. Finally, the early summer months of 2015 have seen a number of visits by external researchers, consultants or industry representatives to Bio4Energy, and the International Congress on Combustion By-products and their Health Effects held in downtown Umeå.

Read more: Year of 2015: A Look Back & Ahead

Flame Retardants, Copper-based 'Chimney Sweepers' Spur Discussions at International Combustion Conference in Sweden

SJ opens PIC 2015Bio4Energy researcher Stina Jansson (left) opens the 14th International Congress on Combustion By-products and Their Health Effects, at Umeå, Sweden. Photo by Lisa Lundin.Toxic emissions of dioxins and flame retardants in connection with biomass burning and other uses were two much discussed topics at this year's International Congress on Combustion By-products and their Health Effects, including on the conference sidelines, according to a Bio4Energy researcher in charge of PIC 2015.

"We have had a very good conference with high-quality presentations and with a highly engaged audience asking questions and used the coffee breaks to continue discussions", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., conference chair and main organiser of the event in Umeå, in northern Sweden.

"Especially the session on flame retardants and the speech by Åke Bergman [of Swetox and the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology] was very interesting. A representative from IKEA also described how in some countries they have to add flame retardants to their furniture even though they do not want to" because of laws in these countries which mandate it, said Jansson, who is a senior lecturer at Umeå University, with reference to the multinational furniture giant headquartered in Sweden.

Read more: Flame Retardants, Copper-based 'Chimney Sweepers' Spur Discussions at International Combustion...

Pyrolysis Oil from Biomass Could Be Early Alternative to Fossil Oil in Transition to Society Fuelled by Renewables

MM Pyrolysis 16615Magnus Marklund and his team at the SP ETC will be able to continue the development of applications of biomass-based pyrolysis oil, thanks to new funding grants from the Swedish Energy Agency and Kempe Foundations. Photo by Maria Fäldt.Pyrolysis of biomass—thermochemical decomposition of wood or organic waste at elevated temperatures and with minimal presence of oxygen—could be an "interesting" option in a transition to replacing today's fossil oil with renewable alternatives, according to a Bio4Energy expert on the thermal conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals. Thus far, however, lack of knowledge about the composition of the bio-oil obtained from pyrolysis of wood or woody waste has been a hindrance efficiently to design techniques for producing and using such bio-oil, to believe researchers in Bio4Energy at the SP Energy Technology Center (SP ETC) at Piteå, in Sweden.

After five years of research in Bio4Energy, and three new funding grants enabling the start of two research projects and the purchase of state-of-the-art instrumentation, that may be about to change.

Until recently, "perhaps 50 per cent of the contents of the oil made by way of pyrolysis could be mapped by ordinary gas chromatography and other methods", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., CEO at the SP ETC, having just received the announcement of two research grants worth more than eight million Swedish kronor from the Swedish Energy Agency, plus support for highly advanced analytical equipment called GCxGC MS from the Kempe Foundations. GC is short for gas chromatography, which in this case is two dimensional, but in this new instrument it has been coupled with a technique called mass spectrometry.

"With the new funding from the Energy Agency for the research projects and for a state-of-the-art analytic instrument from Kempe we are going to complement, strengthen and inventory what is being done on an international top level.

Read more: Pyrolysis Oil from Biomass Could Be Early Alternative to Fossil Oil in Transition to Society...

Bio4Energy is Upgrading its Website

Bio4Energy is upgrading its website and would like to ask all visitors please for a little patience. We are receiving the kind help of web developer Simon Birve of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences to tweak formats and modules in shape.

We started the upgrade 4 June 2015 and expect to need a week-to-ten days to have this "new" bio4energy.se fully functional.

Forest Chemistry: 'Political Support Measures Essential to Commercialisation of Green Chemicals'

Forest-Chem SP-ProcActors from the chemical and forestry industries in Sweden, as well as academia and research institutes, have worked together since 2012 to assess the feasibility of plastic makers' at Stenungssund switching part of their raw material base from petrochemical to woody feedstock. Their report shows it is possible but that political support measures would be needed to make the production of "green" chemicals cost efficient on a commercial scale. Photo by courtesy of SP Processum.In terms of technology, the chemical industry at Stenungssund, Sweden, could make the switch today to a renewable raw material as a partial base for its production, according to a recent report from a Swedish national Forest Chemistry project, using existing technology for making plastics from petrochemicals.

However, for the industry to achieve a level of profitability when using wood or woody waste as feedstock comparable to that of using chemicals refined from fossil oil, political support measures similar to those in place for certain types of bioenergy production would be needed, the report authors from SP Processum and Chalmers Technical University say.

"The project shows that it is possible to replace parts of the fossil raw material and to continue and to use existing technology, but [production] volumes and economics are more tricky bits. The conclusion is that 'green' chemicals would need to be supported by incentives similar to those in place for bioenergy production", said Bio4Energy scientist This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., professor at Umeå University, who led one of the Forest Chemistry research projects on the so-called Sugar Platform.

The research in Forest Chemistry focused on three tracks of the chemical-making operations: Production of butanol, olefins and methanol extracted from the sulphate process of pulping operations. An environmental impact assessment was performed by Bio4Energy researchers at the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden in the form of a life-cycle assessment attempting to gauge the environmental and climatic impact of switching 25 per cent of the raw material base for the totality of the production at the industrial cluster to woody feedstock, as compared with a continued used of petrochemical feedstock.

"We have examined the preconditions both for processes in which cellulose-based ethanol and methanol made by gasification of raw materials from the forest are produced as starting materials from the production of chemicals and plastics. The project results show that it is feasible to use existing techniques, even if additional technological progress is welcome as it would make the processes more efficient.

"Looking at the technical side of things is very important since, in addition to bulk products, one could make high value-added products. There is good reason to continue the work, for instance on lignin products", according to Jönsson.

Bio4Energy’s LCA researchers on the project stressed the importance of assessing the sustainability of products coming out of the cluster along their collective value chain.

Read more: Forest Chemistry: 'Political Support Measures Essential to Commercialisation of Green Chemicals'

Bio4Energy Researchers: Pulping Side Stream May Be Harnessed for High Value-added Chemicals

Fir-conesperfume ASBio4Energy researchers have reviewed different ways of upgrading tall oil residue from pulping operations to value-added chemicals. The researchers belive there is money to be made by industry from harnessing some of the options found. Photo by Bio4Energy.Researchers in Bio4Energy have published a review article designed to guide biorefinery industry looking to make value-added products from side streams of pulp and paper production such as crude tall oil from trees. This is an area that is attracting the attention of several industrial operators in the vanguard of trying to make renewable chemicals with properties similar to chemicals refined from fossil oil.

Just as the Nordic Paper Journal noted in a recent article, there is likely to be big money to make from side streams of the pulping process. The Bio4Energy researchers point to several routes by which substantially value-added fragrances, pharmaceuticals, bio-based plastics, renewable diesel, specialty chemicals or even jet fuel may be made.

"Industry has realised it can increase the profitability of its operations by making use of the terpene fractions…. Our article gives them a tool for identifying what routes to go down", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., professor at Umeå University in Sweden and an expert on catalysis and separation of wood products in Bio4Energy.

The Bio4Energy researchers' 29-page review article gives a complete overview of the latest research on various compounds extracted from turpentine—produced worldwide in approximately 35,000 tonnes each year as a side stream in chemical or mechanical pulping of wood—and treated by heterogeneous catalysis. The article appeared in the April 2015 issue of the Chemical Reviews which receives even more citations by other researchers than the prestigious scientific journals Nature or Science.

Read more: Bio4Energy Researchers: Pulping Side Stream May Be Harnessed for High Value-added Chemicals

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