Inför-Lignin-2014 Foto-Anna-StromBio4Energy researchers Edouard Pesquet and Hannele Tuominen inspect hybrid aspen at an Umeå Plant Science Centre greenhouse. Photo by Anna Strom©.

Late August 2014 the scientific world interested in woodyfeedstock and applications for biorefinery is set to turn its gaze on Umeå, Sweden, where leading experts in the field will discuss a polyaromatic material found in plants and deemed by many to be one of the greatest promises in biorefinery research: Lignin and its many applications.

Or such is the hope of scientists in northern Sweden, having resolved to stage a Lignin 2014 conference 24-28 August, at the heart of the European Cultural Capital 2014. Speakers have been confirmed representing the leading-edge of experimental biological and forest biotechnology research on lignin, as well as industrial commercialisation endeavours.

Among the latter, Martin Lersch of the Borregaard Group, a biorefinery multinational, is expected to share his first-hand experience of the company's lignosulphonate production and work to shore up the industrial process, while John Ralph—the chemist whose team created an artificial lignin molecule, thus paving the way for tailor-made wood—is but one of several leading academic speakers.

The organisers Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC), in cooperation with Bio4Energy and other actors, said they wanted to bring representatives of different strands of lignin research together to discuss basic research and application together with industry.

"We have invited all the key figures representing the different schools studying lignin", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., a Bio4Energy researcher at the UPSC, adding: "The conference is set... to include all the different fields studying lignin, both upstream and downstream".

The researchers, along with a good number of international colleagues, believe the bio-based plant polymer—of which pulp mills around the world turn out about 50 million tonnes per year as a residual stream, a mere fraction of which comes into commercial application—has vast potential as a feedstock in the bioeconomy. Today lignin is used for instance in making emulsifiers and concrete plasticisers, although still on a moderate scale.

“The forestry industry is at a crossroads. Traditional uses for wood and woody biomass will be decreasing. Here in Sweden we have fantastic tree biomass. We must come up with new ideas for how to use it”, said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., a senior B4E researcher and a professor affiliated with the UPSC and Umeå University.

Lignin has been called the “glue” that keeps a tree together and, traditionally, has been separated from wood during the pulping process. For a long time, it was seen as a waste stream, although nowadays it is frequently used as fuel to heat local installation at the pulp mills.

Today, however, research on lignin to gauge its properties and put it to use in products, is booming. Last year a commercial-scale industrial plant for lignin separation was installed in North Carolina, U.S.A., based on technology made in Sweden by the research institute Innventia, a B4E member organisation, and Chalmers University of Technology.

The conference organisers are keen to receive a large specter of researchers and industry representatives so that new ties may be formed be and an agenda for tomorrow’s lignin research and development drawn up. They call for abstracts to be submitted by 13 June.

A Swedish version of the conference announcement is available on the Umeå University website.

Conference registration is available here.

Contacts:

Hannele Tuominen, phone: +46 70 692 7143

Edouard Pesquet, phone: +46 72 203 3209

Conference organisers and sponsors:

BioImprove

Bio4Energy

Swedish Research Council Formas

Swedish Research Council

Innovation Agency

Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems

B4E-2-Entry

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