Conditioning with Reducing Agents Shown to Raise Yields in Advanced Biofuel Production

CM slurry AS231115Carlos Martín and Bio4Energy colleagues have developed a one-step biomass conditioning-and-conversion process which could bring cost-efficiency to cellulosic ethanol production. Photo by Bio4Energy.Bio4Energy researchers have invented a process which could bring greater certainty of cost efficiency to industrial biorefineries that choose to base their operations on lignocellulosic input materials such as wood from spruce or pine trees.

Currently the U.S.A. and Italy are among few countries in the world to host industrial biorefineries for the production of ethanol based on cellulose via the biochemical conversion route using industrial enzymes and yeast. However, these biorefineries mainly use agricultural residue as feedstock in their operations.

While advanced bio-based production is seen as a great opportunity in several richly forested countries in the boreal belt, industrial operators there are up against a practical problem. A large part of the Canadian, Swedish and Finnish forest resource is made up of coniferous tree species whose woody composition is highly complex and requires harsh treatment before rendering its cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin components in separate parts, which is a requirement in most bio-based production. This harsh pre-treatment means toxic elements are left in the biomass slurry resulting from the process, whose impact must be reduced for efficiency to be achieved in the conversion step to fuels and chemicals.

Read more: Conditioning with Reducing Agents Shown to Raise Yields in Advanced Biofuel Production

Bio4Energy Researcher Made Gunnar Öquist Fellow

Gunnar-Oquist-Fellows-2015_ASJudith Felten and Olivier Keech received this year's Gunnar Öquist Fellowships. Öquist (left) and Carl Kempe handed over the fellowship diplomas. Photo by Bio4Energy.Bio4Energy researcher at the Umeå Plant Science Centre has won one of two Gunnar Öquist Fellowships awarded today at Umeå University in Sweden. The award sponsored by the Kempe Foundations is a recognition of scientific and personal merit and comes with stipend of 3.05 million Swedish kronor (€330,000). Professor Emeritus Gunnar Öquist, himself a plant physiologist, is said to be one of Umeå University's most well-known scientists internationally. He is also a long-standing member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Every Gunnar Öquist Fellow receives his mentorship.

"I am very honoured to receive this award", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., who is affiliated with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

"We were both very surprised", she added on behalf of herself and her UPSC colleague and plant physiologist Olivier Keech who received the second fellowship.

A cell and molecular biologist, Felten recently has been studying the cell walls of tree roots and fungi and the changes that both undergo as they create a symbiosis referred to as ectomycorrhiza in the soil around the roots of a tree. Ectomycorrhiza is believed to favour tree growth. Giving a presentation as part of the award ceremony, the German-born researcher referred to her area of study as targeting the "secret life that goes on beneath the surface" in forests soils.

Read more: Bio4Energy Researcher Made Gunnar Öquist Fellow

Clean-burning Cookstoves, Technology for Local Electricity Production to Be Developed for Africa

CB cookstoves GroupA project for Africa: Christoffer Boman and colleagues will develop a clean-burning cookstove and propose solutions for local electricity production via biomass gasification. Photos by courtesy of Christoffer Boman.Development of clean-burning technology for household cooking and medium-scale electricity production in Sub-Saharan Africa is the focus of a new multiannual project by Bio4Energy researchers in collaboration with African actors, the Swedish Environment Institute (SEI) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

As the researchers acknowledge in an application for funds to the Swedish Research Council Formas, which has now been granted, almost one fifth of the world population still lacks access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. Moreover, indoor air pollution caused by biomass burning for cooking and heating either using poor appliances or simply building a fire indoors cause about two million deaths per year in Southeast Asia and Africa.

While great strides have been made by high-profile initiatives such as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, "many uncertainties still exist regarding the performance of different cooking solutions… [and] emissions from these systems and the relation to air pollution and health effects need to be better elucidated", according to the project application.

Read more: Clean-burning Cookstoves, Technology for Local Electricity Production to Be Developed for Africa

Thermal Treatment of Sludge Could Boost Phosphorus Resources, Solve Waste Problem

MarcusOhman 2916rsBio4Energy vice programme manager Marcus Öhman will develop a new efficient method for phosphorous recovery from waste sludge, together with colleagues in Bio4Energy. Photo by courtesy of Marcus Öhman.

Bio4Energy researchers are developing a new efficient method for phosphorus recovery using thermal treatment of sludge from municipal waste treatment facilities or pulp and paper operations. Once implemented, the scheme is expected to provide for a reduction of the risk of contamination of food and feed crops by heavy metals—as well as reduce the problem of how to dispose of toxic waste sludge—and produce an economic benefit for industry. Research leader This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. said that the technology could be ready for industrial uptake within a decade.

"We could be at the stage of industrial demonstration of the technology in five years. Then a certain amount of time would be needed for classification of the product. We know that it would be economically beneficial for some [existing] bioenergy operations which use fluid-bed technology to start co-firing dried sludge with [fuel wood]", according to Öhman, who is a professor in Energy Engineering at the Luleå University of Technology (LTU).

The research and development project, which is the fruit of collaboration between Bio4Energy researchers at LTU and Umeå University, has been several years in the making. Now it can go ahead thanks to a recently announced multiannual grant from the Swedish Research Council Formas.

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant growth and thus for food production. It is extracted by mining in a handful of countries worldwide and its maximum production is expected to peak in the year 2030. After that predictions range from 50 to several hundred years before it runs out. Research is ongoing on a handful of methods for recycling the mineral from sludge, but which either perform inadequately (when it comes to removal of toxic heavy metals present in sludge or to phosphorus recovery rates) or are inhibitively expensive, to believe Öhman.

Read more: Thermal Treatment of Sludge Could Boost Phosphorus Resources, Solve Waste Problem

Problem-solving Studies on Biomass Gasification, Waste Water Treatment Enabled by VR Grants

gallery thumbnailsBio4Energy researchers won funds for water treatment projects. Photo by courtesy of FDP.Bio4Energy researchers have won funds for carrying out scientific studies on reducing soot formation in biomass gasification for making biofuels, as well as two projects on water purification in developing countries. The prestigious Swedish Research Council (VR) announced a number of decisions on research funding this week, with the grants to Bio4Energy's researchers corresponding to the 'Natural and Engineering Sciences' and 'Development Research' categories. Bio4Energy PIs This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 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. were the three happy recipients.

"It's very good. I would like to develop better [biomass] gasification technology", said Umeki who is an associate professor at the Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in northern Sweden, who received funding for the project Chemical Interaction of Closely Located Reactive Particles in Gas Flow.

"We are going to develop tools to optimise gasifiers in industrial scale conditions and a new model that will assimilate [or mimic] the gasification process" more adequately than current models, he explained.

Read more: Problem-solving Studies on Biomass Gasification, Waste Water Treatment Enabled by VR Grants

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

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