Commercialising forest biotechnology can be an uphill struggle despite having a MatsJohnson SweTreeTechnologies 2497Mats Johnson of the clean technology company SweTree Technologies is a forest biotechnology entrepreneur based at Umeå in northern Sweden. Photo by Bio4Energy.
well-performing product with a low environmental impact to offer, a conference on research and innovation in the area of bioenergy and biorefinery has heard.

Mats Johnson of SweTree Technologies, a Sweden-based SME developing biotechnological products or solutions for the forestry industry, told delegates to Bioenergy 2012 at Piteå, Sweden, that his company’s commercial product arGrow®, a fertilizer with a low environmental impact, had received somewhat of a cool reception among the country’s large forestry companies.

“Generally speaking the large (Swedish forestry) companies are not very good at adopting biotechnology” solutions, said Johnson, SweTree CEO, in a speech 15 November. However, “some are interested, but we are at an early stage in the process. In fact, there are only three companies in the world that have made biotechnological solutions their specialty”.

What sets arGrow® apart from traditional fertilizers is the fact that it is based on the amino acid arginine rather than on ammonium nitrate, the latter of which chemical may leak to cause soils and water to acidify. The technology behind arGrow® carries the signature of a team of researchers in Bio4Energy, led by professorThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

In 2008, SweTree Technologies made the British newspaper Guardian's list of 100 most promising clean technology or 'clean tech' companies, "for its focus on the development of new technology to increase growth and the value of trees and tree fibres, not least for use as (a source of) energy", SweTree recounted on its website.

As an exception to the rule described by Johnson, the Sweden-based forestry company Holmen had "put a high priority on the environmental advantage and adopted arGrow® fully", which was an “environmentally-friendly” product in that it gave rise only to "very low nitrogen leakage”, he said;

“This is of great value for them (Holmen) so therefore they considered it worth switching” to arGrow® from a traditional nitrogen-based fertilizer. He added that there were further benefits to his company's product which had made it attrative to Holmen to make the change.   

However, "when there is no price (on pollution) or no discincentive to switch from the use of the traditional fertlizer for a more environmentally-friendly fertilizer the value of the product in this respect usually is limitied for the potential customer", according to Johnson;

"(W)e have very special products which are difficult to sell despite their many benefits. It takes time. These are problems that we wrestle with”.


Bio4Energy on Twitter