"The project's name refers to the mobile and flexible processing of biomass. We are going to make semi-finished products close to the production site of the raw material. New business models will be drawn up and the technologies assessed with LCA [life cycle assessment]", said Larsson, who is an associate professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).
"We have a technical work package that lets us work on the respective technologies pelletisation, torrefaction, hydrothermal treatment and saccharification (i.e. hydrolysis of polysaccharides to soluble sugars, Ed's note) and we build mobile systems for them".
The project partners' idea is to make use of superfluous biomass materials, such as agricultural and forestry residues. Since raw biomass waste tends to be bulky, oftentimes it can make sense to subject it to some kind of pre-treatment that makes it more compact and reduces its water content. If processing systems could be made mobile, financial and environmental costs of transporting and handling the biomass could be reduced.
If, in addition, at least some of the feedstock could be made to suit more uses, further cost benefits could be realised, the project partners believe. They are a diverse bunch, with two large companies in France and Greece producing bio-based material in the consortium, several small or medium-sized companies and researchers from Sweden, Finland, France and Estonia. Project leaders are the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
"This project is partly about knowledge transfer. We have to understand [the conditions on the ground] in southern Europe before we can transfer smart [technology and applications] that we make in northern Europe, and vice versa", according to Larsson, who is a group leader on the research and development platform Bio4Energy Wood Pre-processing.
The four-year project hosts annual workshops. The first one, which comes one-and-a-half year into it, will be held 14-16 June at Umeå, where the SLU has a Biomass Technology Centre and where a range of biomass materials are assessed, assembled and cut up in various ways.
"These days will be about showing our partners our reality and about the questions that we spend a lot of time trying to answer", Larsson said: "Next year we are going to France and I am really excited about seeing their agro systems".
The SLU researchers' role in Mobile Flip are to be "masters of materials", according to Larsson. This implied a responsibility for keeping in store a range of raw materials, for making sure that these were "well defined" in the sense of being pure and ready to be made available in forms suitable for further assessment, for delivering the materials in a timely fashion to consortium partners on their request and for "getting it right" in all these steps.
The Bio4Energy researchers in Mobile Flip are in charge of six tonnes of each of the following biomass materials.
- Bark from pine trees
- Wheat straw
- Corn cobs (with the corn having been removed for food or feed production)
- Sun flower shells
- Rapeseed cake
- Reed canary grass
- Residues from pine tree harvesting (branches and tops)
- Residues from beech tree harvesting (awaiting delivery)
- Long-rotation poplar
- Short-rotation willow