Umeå University

  • A Biorefinery Research Environment

    tree_on_globeThe research environment Bio4Energy aims to create highly efficient and environmentally-sound biorefinery processes—including methods and tools for making products such as biofuels, "green" chemicals and new bio-based materials—which draw on biomass sourced from forests or organic waste as a raw material. 

    Raw materials, or "feedstock", should be used as completely and as efficiently as possible at all stages of the biorefinery value chain. This is taken to mean from the designing or planting of the first seed for growing a tree, through to the development of consumer products that can be commercialised and add value for their soundness in terms of economic, environmental and social impact. 

    Some of the things Bio4Energy aims to do differently are to use all parts of the tree and to recycle or recover by-products that typically go to waste in mainstream forestry operations. Some of the Bio4Energy scientists—there are more than 220 of them—are developing processes by which to turn such residual streams into energy, high-value specialty chemicals or other bio-based products.

    Research organisation

    At the core of Bio4Energy are two process platforms. They are Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion Technologiesand Bio4Energy Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion Technologies. Researchers on the two research and development (R&D) platforms turn out new or improved processes for making advanced biofuels, such as dimethyl ether or second-generation bioethanol; new bio-based materials or "green" chemicals which, in turn, may be used as building blocks in bio-based products. These may be plastics or pharmaceuticals, coatings, liners, adhesives or a number of other things; all based on woody feedstock or organic waste as a raw material.

    The research environment Bio4Energy also has a team that studies and develops the woody feedstock. Simply put, researchers on the R&D platform Bio4Energy Feedstock, hosted by Umeå Plant Science Centre, make "better" trees. Since Bio4Energy is based in Scandinavia, a large part of which sits in the boreal belt, the foremost feedstock for the technology processes being developed derives from spruce and pine trees, or residue from industrial processes in which they are used, such as pulping. However, poplar or hybrid aspen trees are also being studied and the question put whether these tree species may be grown successfully on northern latitudes. A part of the Materials and Bioscience branch of the research institute RISE is part of the platform Bio4Energy Feedstock and has developed an encompassing database by which genetic data may be cross-read with data on mechanical characteristics of trees: the Bio4Energy Traits Database.

    The R&D platforms Bio4Energy Wood Pre-processing and Bio4Energy Chemical Catalysis and Separation Technologies, for their part, are there to facilitate the journey that the carbohydrate and aromatic content of the biomass must make for it to be converted to products, as well as a cost-competitive alternative to petrochemicals. Seemingly small inventions in these platforms may make all the difference in terms of the efficiency of the thermal or biochemical conversion of biomass to fuels or chemicals. The task then of the platform Bio4Energy System Analysis and Bioeconomyis to make sure various processes, such as in a biorefinery, function with maximal efficiency in terms of energy use and as a unit. In a biorefinery a number of processes and their stream of primary and side products have to function efficiently together. This is Bio4Energy's most recent R&D platform and its members also carry out integrated market analyses and environmental system analyses.

    Finally the task of the platform Bio4Energy Environment and Nutrient Recyclingis to check and make sure that the methods and tools being developed by the other six platforms have a low or no detrimental impact on the environment, with the aim of 'closing the loop' in terms of only inputting renewable raw materials and limiting noxious emissions to air, ground and water to a strict minimum. In the first programme period of Bio4Energy, 2010-2016, the platform's dual foci were placed on system analysis assessing mainly climate change-inducing emissions of bio-based processes, on the one hand, and on limiting organic emissions at source, on the other. In Bio4Energy's second programme period, 2017-2021, the perspective has been expanded to encompass resource efficiency along the value chain of biorefinery products and calculating the cost of various options for making sure biorefinery operations are sustainable.

    One vision, many partners

    A large number of industrial operators have endorsed Bio4Energy and are part of a Bio4Energy Industrial Network. The scientists cooperate with them to develop advanced biofuels, "green" chemicals or other bio-based products, such as new materials made using nanotechnology. Another strand of work focuses on eliminating noxious emission or undesirable residues from existing industrial processes. For instance, methods are being developed to convert biomass ashes and sludge into renewable energy, liming materials or low-polluting fertilizers. In some cases, high-temperature processes in combination with filters that capture particulate matter and heavy metals will be used to rid the biorefinery process of toxic organic compounds.

    Another promising line of research in Bio4Energy targets the capture and recycling of carbon dioxide (CO2), the international reference for greenhouse gases. New technologies for CO2capture and reuse that rely on catalytic conversion are being invented. When it comes to development, Bio4Energy researchers have realised inventions which has led to new pilot facilities being installed (just off the campus of the lead organisation Umeå University) for the pre-treatment of biomass by roasting (torrefaction), at a BTX Fornax facility. Two other groups have made ample use of Sweden's only demonstration unit for bioethanol production, the Biorefinery Demonstration Plantat Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. Yet others collaborate with Swedish pellet industry, characterising and modulating biomass materials at the Biomass Technology Centrewhich hosts pilot facilities for the separation and fractionation of biomass at SLU Röbäcksdalen, at Umeå, Sweden. Further north, at Piteå, Bio4Energy researchers are an integral part of a team tasked with trialling, perfecting and upscaling production of biofuels made via the gasification route. At the LTU Green Fuelscentre, "ultra" low-polluting dimethyl ether (or bioDME) fuel is made from a residual product of the pulping process, black liquor, using entrained-flow gasification technology. Part of the same industrial site, the RISE Energy Technology Center has facilities for optimising gasification and pyrolysis processes and serves as link between academia and industry.

    A research 'environment'

    Bio4Energy is not only a research programme, but also a research environment. At its core are three Swedish universities recognised as national leaders in education and research on bioenergy, biotechnology and forest management. They are Umeå University, Luleå University of Technologyand the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Umeå. A large number of Sweden-based firms and a handful of innovation and research institutes have signed up to become partners. Of these RISE (groups in the Materials and Bioscience and Bioeconomy branches, respectively) and the ETC Energy Technology Center are founding members of Bio4Energy. RISE Processum and Piteå Science Park, both of which organisations are close to or representing industry, are the Strategic Partners of Bio4Energy. Several other cooperation partners could be mentioned here.

    Moreover, scientific collaboration is underway with research organisations or groups in Europe as well as in the U.S.A., Australia, Canada, China, Korea, Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa and other countries. The Bio4Energy research programme is committed to the sustainable use of natural resources and aware of the European Union's efforts to combat climate change by lessening the reliance on fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewable energy. In particular, Bio4Energy works to align its practices on advice issued by the European Technology Platforms devoted to forests, plants and biofuels. Since early 2014, Bio4Energy is a member of the European Bio-based Industries' Consortium, which has seen the birth of a Bio-based Industries' Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) as a part of the European Union's Joint Technology Initiatives' process. In Sweden, the programme part of Bio4Energy is a member of BioInnovationa cross-sectoral programme designed to promote bio-based innovationand of the Swedish Centre for Renewable Transportation Fuels.

    Bio4Energy aims to be a driving force for innovation and thereby the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises. It has set up its own Graduate School on the Innovative Use of Biomass so as to provide post-secondary training for a new generation of academic researchers, to develop scientific expertise in bioenergy, bio-based chemicals and, as a separate strand, biotechnology. At Umeå University, a new undergraduate training programme was unveiled at the end of 2013 and is designed to train future engineers in Bioresource Technology.

    Bio4Energy was born in late 2009, when the Swedish government agreed to offer a constellation of 44 mostly Swedish biorefinery researchers its support for developing over five years a Strategic Research Environment, tasked with drawing together some of the best brains in bioenergy and biorefinery research and development, as well as create links and collaboration within the academic cluster and cooperation with industrial actors.

    The government's generous support, topped up with contributions from the member universities and external funds won as a result of it, have allowed Bio4Energy to expand from the initial 44 to 235 researchers*(in March 2014 - and hovering between 235 and 250 members in 2015), originating from a number of countries but affiliated with one or more of Bio4Energy's founding member organisations. In 2009, more than 20 industrial companies pledged their support for the creation of Bio4Energy by signing letters of endorsement.

    For more information: See Bio4Energy's Clean-Tech Article (available also from the drop-down menu of the 'Research' heading) or an article in Swedishby Umeå University Information Services. As of June 2015, Bio4Energy has its own news page in Swedish on the Umeå University website and a programme page on the Luleå University of Technology website.

    Press and mediaare most welcome to contact Bio4Energy Communications by e-mail to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at: +46 90 786 5247 (weekdays).

    *In November 2017 Bio4Energy had approximately 220 researchers.

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    Hereunder is the standard sentence which researchers may put towards the end of their scientific articles to acknowledge or thank Bio4Energy for its support:

    We thank Bio4Energy, a Strategic Research Environment appointed by the Swedish government, for supporting this work.
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  • Announcement of Gunnar Öquist Fellows 2016, Umeå, Sweden

    On Thursday 3 December at 14:00, the Kempe Foundations will announce this year's Gunnar Öquist Fellows in Stora hörsalen in the KBC Building. The awardees will give a short presentation of their research projects. Everyone interested is welcome to join the ceremony and mingle afterwards.

    The award includes a SEK3 million research grant, which may be used freely for three years, and SEK 50,000 as personal funding.

    Professor Gunnar Öquist, Umeå University's perhaps most internationally renowned scientist, has lent his name and will mentor the selected persons. Thanks to his long-standing work at the Royal Academy of Sciences and his many contacts with Nobel Laureates, he has valuable experience in cutting-edge research, which may benefit the awardee.

    This is the fourth consecutive year for researchers to be appointed Gunnar Öquist Fellows. The Kempe Foundations have decided to appoint a Fellow both at Umeå University and at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umeå this year.

    Everyone is welcome to join the ceremony.

    Time: Thursday, 3 December at 14:00 Place: Stora hörsalen, KB3B1, KBC Building





  • Bio4Energy Accelerated Integration, Future Past 2020

    Accelerated Integration and Future Past 2020 was the theme for a recent Spring 2017 Bio4Energy Researchers' Meetingor Bio4Energy biannual conference for its researchers. The presenters were all recruited for their willingness to collaborate more widely across the Bio4Energy Research and Development Platforms.

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    The second day of two had a focus on Bio4Energy System Analysis and Bioeconomy. Platform leader This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.of the Luleå University of Technology said two important considerations, when assessing emerging technologies in a system perspective, were to apply appropriate system boundaries and to take into account the societal context at the time of commercialisation of any resulting products.

  • Bio4Energy Board Meeting, via Skype

  • Bio4Energy Extraordinary Steering Group Meeting, by phone

  • 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.

  • Bio4Energy Researchers Acknowledged for 'Milestone' Article on Ash Transformation Chemistry

    NS MOh DB MB ChB AS8617For a long time, the selection of fuels for biomass combustion, in terms of avoiding problems such as slagging and fouling of the reactors, often was carried out based on trial and error. About a decade into the 21st century, a group of Sweden-based researchers with long-standing experience in high-temperature conversion of woody feedstock to heat and power started to mull over a more systematic approach to assessing the reactions in thermal conversion of the chief trouble-making content of the biomass: the inorganic compounds forming the ash.

    In 2012, the scientist, brought together under the umbrella of Bio4Energy, published an article on Ash Transformation Chemistry during Combustion of Biomass in the interdisciplinary scientific journal Energy & Fuels by the American Chemical Society (ASC). The article describes a conceptual model by which any type of biomass—whether originating from wood, woody or agricultural residue or other types of combustible waste—may be characterised, and thus understood, in terms of the basic chemical reactions that take place during thermal conversion of biomass into heat, power, fuels and chemicals.

    After having been amply cited by other researchers around the world, this spring, the article by Bio4Energy scientists received the 2017 Energy & Fuels Joint Award for Excellence in Publication.

  • Bio4Energy Researchers' Meeting, Umeå, Sweden

  • Bio4Energy Researchers' Meeting: New Activities, Leaders

    Have you ever wondered what artificial intelligence is and how it can be used in research and development on bio-based technologies? Or what the cost would be replacing the use of fossil fuel-based petrol and diesel with renewable methanol as a transport fuel in Sweden? Bio4Energy is publishing some clues below, contained in presentations given at the most recent Bio4Energy Researchers’ Meeting, which is a biannual event where researchers, students and technicians who are members of the research environment meet and trade notes on their latest progress. This autumn, they met 15 November for a seminar at Skellefteå, Sweden.

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  • Bio4Energy Results on Large-scale Hydrogen Production Part of IVA 'Progress in Research & Technology 2017' Speech - Video

    In August, Bio4Energy researchers and partners unveiled a scheme that could enable large-scale production of hydrogen based on renewable electricity. This month, the director of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), Björn O. Nilsson, acknowledged it his annual speech Progress in Research and Technology 2017.

    He did so approximately 25.15 minutes into the speech. We publish it here, with permission. Bio4Energy wants to thank Pär Rönnberg, writer at IVA, for coordinating contacts with us.

    Årets framsteg inom forskning och teknik 2017 from IVA on Vimeo. Bio4Energy results on a new catalyst for large-scale hydrogen production part of IVA president speech on Best Research of 2017. Video published with permission.

  • Bio4Energy Set to Continue as Strategic Research Environment

    Bio4energy cmykThe research environment Bio4Energy has been granted a continuation of it activities at least until the end of 2020.

    This has been confirmed with the unfolding of events this week, starting with the release of the Swedish government's proposal for research and innovation work by the academy and research institutes for the years 2017-2020, and confirmation by the vice chancellor's advisor on infrastructure issues at Umeå University, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., that the university will keep directing the corresponding funding to Bio4Energy.

    "In line with the government directives, the strategic research areas hosted by Umeå University will continue. However, this is on the condition that you continue having a set aside, strategic funds, so that we will be able to adjust our activities in accordance with any new directives that the government may specify" in its forthcoming Letter of Regulation, said Sommarin, who is also chair of the Bio4Energy Board, commenting on the research bill.
  • Bio4Energy Steering Group Meeting, by phone

  • Bio4Energy Steering Group Meeting, by phone

  • Bio4Energy Steering Group Meeting, by phone

  • Bio4Energy Steering Group Meeting, by phone

  • Bio4Energy Steering Group Meeting, by phone

  • Bio4Energy Steering Group Meeting, by phone

  • Bio4Energy Steering Group Meeting, by phone

  • Bio4Energy Steering Group Meeting, by phone

    Bio4Energy Steering Group Meeting, by phone
  • Bio4Energy Thesis Defence: Mixed Fuels Composed of Household Waste Wood, Umeå, Sweden