Bio4Energy scientists have set out to create a completely new biorefinery value chain, by marrying the production of methane biogas and bio coal based on the wood polymer lignin, in a multi-annual project run by researchers at Umeå University (UmU), Luleå University of Technology (LTU) and their industrial partners Erebia, Blatraden Miljötekniskt center and the forestry company Sveaskog. The Swedish Research Council Formas granted the project funds under its latest call for research proposals on Research for the Transition to a Bio-based Economy, announced last week.
Projects by Bio4Energy researchers on the integration of power production with biorefinery operations and finding the best source of wood for the production of nanocellulose also were granted funds in the Bio-based Economy call.
Professor Rova is part of the project Integrated Conversion of Forest Residues into Methane and Carbonised Bio-based Materials (INFORMAT). So are a number of other Bio4Energy researchers and together they will attempt to lay the foundation for a completely new value chain in biorefinery by integrating the production of methane biogas from wood and woody residue with lignin extraction and re-use. That is, the scientists will separate out the lignin part of the wood polymer complex at an early stage of the process and use it to make bio coal by subjecting the lignin fraction to high temperature treatment, using hydrothermal carbonisation technology.
"Our idea is to connect [the two production tracks] of biogas and lignin, and be able to extract different types of materials from the lignin. The key to obtaining materials of sufficient quality is to make a lignin fraction that is pure, or as pure as possible…. With the Organosolv pre-treatment that the LTU will use they are able to produce this pure fraction", Jansson said.
One application for the lignin fraction could be to make bio-based carbon fibres.
"We think we will be able to make carbon fibres that are less expensive" than those currently in experimental use, but with equal or better performance. The project's industrial partners are heavily involved in this part of the project.
"We want to understand the raw material [properties and performance] well so that we can design materials for specific uses and perhaps even make our choice of woody raw materials dependent on the type of material we want to make", according to Jansson.
She said that together the conversion step to biogas and the material production would integrate to become the basis for a new value chain. In biogas production from renewable forest-sourced materials, which is still at the demonstration stage, the lignin fraction goes to waste. With the INFORMAT project the scientists hope to provide industry with new insights into efficient biogas production from woody materials in which the lignin fraction of the wood is extracted and re-used. Birch and spruce wood and forestry residue will be used as feedstock.
- Written by Anna Strom