"Swedish forestry industry needs to transition from traditional production of wood and pulp to a more varied and sustainable production of bio-based products", said Formas first secretary Gia Destouni in a press release announcing the grants, in lieu of justification for the need of the research projects thus enabled.
This is taken to mean that the industry could benefit from a move from pulp and paper making only, to full-scale biorefinery operations in which products as diverse as biofuels, "green" chemicals and specialty acids or the like could be made in one production unit.
Each of the four Bio4Energy research proposals, applied projects expected to result in methods or processes for industry to incorporate in their production within a few years, aim to add one small piece of the puzzle of such a transition:
Efficient conversion of forest biomass insoluble polyesters with potential use in lignocellulosic feedstock biorefineries;
Rapid drying of sludge from forestry industrial operations using vacuum technology;
Large-scale expansion of biorefinery: New value chains, products and the efficient use of woody biomass and;
Selection of elite populations of pine for the sustainable production of new bioenergy and carbohydrate products.
Bio4Energy would like to acknowledge its researchers who contributed a presentation to the Lignin 2014 conference, held 24-28 August at Umeå, Sweden.
Bio4Energy researcher Sandra Winestrand of Umeå University and the Billerud-Korsnäs group.'Smart' packaging designed to prolong the shelf-life of food
Sandra Winestrand and colleagues at Umeå and Karlstad Universities
Edited abstract: Extending the shelf-life of packaged food is a potential way of reducing food waste. One possible way to do this is by using a system that scavenges the oxygen inside a package equipped with an oxygen barrier. A common way to scavenge oxygen inside a package is to insert a small sachet containing iron powder. An alternative to this is to use oxygen-scavenging enzymes that can be incorporated directly in the coating layer of the package.
The phenol-oxidising enzyme laccase uses molecular oxygen as its oxidising substrate, and could therefore be used for the latter type of application. Laccase can use derivatives of lignin as its reducing substrate, which would be interesting from a biorefinery perspective since lignin derivatives are underused co-products in biorefinery based on lignocellulosic feedstock. The aims of the investigation were to understand how the properties of lignin derivatives affected the enzymatic reaction and the quality of the coating layer.
The study involved the use of lignin derivatives and preparations of size-fractionated lignin derivatives from industrial processing of lignocellulose. The molecular properties of the lignin derivatives before and after oxidation by laccase were investigated, as well as the capability of films and coatings to scavenge oxygen. The results indicate that laccase-catalysed cross-linking decreases oxygen levels and improves the water stability of the packaging material.
Art Ragauskas of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, U.S.A., develops polyurethane applications from lignin, together with industrial partners. Photo by Anna Strom.Usually burnt to heat the facilities at pulp and paper-making operations after valuable carbohydrate components such as cellulose have been separated from the woody feedstock—and sometimes cursed for its tendency to stick like glue to the other components of the wood—the polymer lignin, making up almost a third of the wood in trees, has become hot property in research and development (R&D) geared at making bio-based products.
So what’s new, you might wonder. Biorefinery operators such as Borregaard of Norway and Domsjö Fabriker of Sweden have been using lignin for other products than energy for some time, mainly as a component of cement. Carbon fibres have been developed for various applications, for instance by the Swedish research institute Innventia; and there is Borregaard occupying a niche with the way in which it makes vanilla flavouring from the lignin polymer. Still, as biomass researcher John Ralph of the U.S.-based University of Wisconsin-Madison said in a recent interview with Swedish science journalists, "Nothing has come to the top yet as being a winner application" made from lignin.
Part of the reason for that is likely the complexity of lignin—making it hard to break away from the rest of the wood and perhaps even to understand—and its tendency to cling to the carbohydrates cellulose and hemicellulose inside the wood, like a cement holding them together. After all, lignin is what gives plants their sturdiness and allow them to reach their stems towards the sky despite gravity's pulling the other way.
'Zip' ligninUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison professor John Ralph, who is also a researcher at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Center, is the man whose research group has invented a method designed more easily to zip lignin apart. Photo by Anna Strom.
Either way, Ralph should know. On 27 August he presented a Lignin 2014conference with groundbreaking fundamental research on how to alter trees from within, by introducing a modification designed to make its lignin content more malleable (watch a video excerpt of his presentation on http://bio4energy.se). The result would be a tree, say a poplar tree, with additional readily cleavable bonds in a part of its lignin content (in the so-called lignin backbone). The new lignin present in a tree thus modified should be easier to cleave into smaller pieces and to break away from the rest of the wood. Lignin researchers refer to this method, or rather its result, as "zip" lignin.
The Lignin 2014 conference started Sunday 24 August with a 'Get Together' at Umeå, Sweden, at the Umeå University Arts' Campus. Monday 25 August saw several distinguished researchers present including Japanese Noritsugu Terashima of Nagoya University, Niko Geldner of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and—last but not least—Norman Lewis of Washington State University in the U.S.A..
Tuesday 26 August was a day for lignin analysis. Among a number of high-caliber speakers, analytical chemist Wout Boerjan of the University of Gent in Belgium explained how systems biology might be used to understand phenolic metabolism in trees. Others, such as Gerald Tuskan of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S.A., said that rich genomic resources facilitated progress in understanding the way in which wood is formed.
The Lignin 2014 organisers. From left: Leif Jönsson, Edouard Pesquet, Mattias Hedenström, Hannele Tuominen, Carlos Martín and Sacha Escamez. Photo by Anna Strom, Bio4Energy.With just over two weeks to go to the start of the Lignin 2014 international conference, its organisers express satisfaction at the wide range of speakers and attendees having signed up to hear of the latest scientific progress and future applications of lignin, one of the most abundant polymers in plants and so the wood of trees. The discussions are set to cover both the biological and chemical side of lignin research—in fact, a chief objective is to bring the two sides together in one conference—and with an entire session devoted to industrial development of lignin applications. Beginning of August, 144 people had signed up to attend the conference, together with21 presenters who represent the absolute top-runners in the science or industrial application of lignin.
As summer holidays approach for some of us, Bio4Energy would like to wish you a nice summer. We will be back in August, or September for some, with the same team of researchers, including those who recently swapped places with each other in the Bio4Energy branch that deals with the thermal conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals. Click here to read about these changes.
Also in autumn 2014 Bio4Energy plans to host the followingevents together with its partners:
Lignin 2014 – an international conference which aims to bring together top-of-the-line academic researchers with industry developing lignin applications or starting to produce (separate out) lignin on an industrial scale – Joint organisation with the Umeå Plant Science Centre – Umeå, 24-28 August 2014
Bio4Energy Industrial Network and SP Processum Membership Event – This last industrial network meeting in the first round of Bio4Energy will be an opportunity for industry representatives and academic researchers to discuss current or future collaborations and take joint look forwards. What are the needs of the biorefinery industry in terms of technology development? Could academia help with whole-system or process integration assessments? These and other questions are likely to be posed at this event, which looks set to include a guided tour of pilot and/or demonstration units attached to the cluster at Umeå – Umeå, 21 October 2014
Joakim Lundgren (left) has taken over the leadership of the Swedish Centre for Biomass Gasification from Rikard Gebart. Both are Bio4Energy researchers at the Luleå University of Technology. Photo by Leif Nyberg.
The ball went rolling because one highly talented professor had too much to do, leading both the SFC, the Bio4Energy Thermochemical Platform and—after a successful round of applications for funding—the newish Biosyngas Programme, which delivers research and development (R&D) on behalf of the LTU Green Fuels Centre at Piteå, Sweden.
Impact on Bio4Energy R&D development
Ash Chemistry and Fuel Design, Focusing on Phosphorus-rich Biomass, is the title of a recent report by Nils Skoglund, who is part of a group at Umeå University which develops environmentally-safe methods for burning biomass and recycling essential nutrients such as phosphorus. Photo collage by courtesy of Nils Skoglund.
Bio4Energy researchers have started to carve out a niche for themselves as specialists in dealing with recalcitrant biomass, be it from coniferous trees, agricultural residue or organic waste, a string of recent research results would suggest. While some work to control the organic content of the biomass, others break ground on biomass combustion where the focus is rather on ash chemistry and emission control. In the latter case, the focus is on the inorganic content of biomass.
Looking first at the organic biomass content, on the Bio4Energy Biochemical Platform they lead the world in solving thorny problems to do with the breakdown of wood or forestry residues from spruce trees for the production biofuels and "green" chemicals, a recent evaluation of Bio4Energy 2010-2014 has shown.
Going hand in hand with recent work by these biochemists to demonstrate a new method for large-scale bioethanol production—which makes use of a residual stream previously thought of as an environmental problem—new separation processes that make the wood release its sugars more easily have been put forward and compared by the scientists, who are specialised either in industrial biotechnology or catalytic processes and, in particular, the breakdown of biomass using ionic liquids. (Click on the 'Research' menu heading of this website to access recent Scientific Articles.)
In a recent article in the BMC Biotechnology scientific journal, they explain that, "Lignocellulosic biomass is highly recalcitrant and various pre-treatment techniques are needed to facilitate its effective enzymatic hydrolysis to produce sugars for further conversion to bio-based chemicals. Ionic liquids (ILs) are of interest in pre-treatment because of their potential to dissolve lignocellulosic materials including crystalline cellulose.