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BDP credit RISE 400pxFor their verification experiments, the Bio4Energy researchers used the Biorefinery Demonstration Plant, at Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. Photo by courtesy of RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.Late 2015, Bio4Energy researchers unveiled a series of articles describing how to raise yields in biofuel making by decreasing the impact of toxic substances generated in the pre-treatment step of biochemical conversion to fuels and chemicals, by using reducing agents. Their work, targeting advanced biofuel production from woody raw materials—sometimes referred to as the biorefinery of the future—has received a great amount of attention from researchers all over the world.

Mid-March this year, the main scientific article in the series, giving a review of research in the area and outlining the new method, had received over 400 citations in other scientific articles written by researchers worldwide. This is more than 20 times the average of articles published in the prestigious Bioresource Technology journal, which carried the review, according to Carlos Martín of Umeå University (UmU). Martín and his co-author This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. are leading figures on the research and development platform Bio4Energy Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion Technologies.

“Friends and colleagues from all over the world sent their congratulations. Yesterday [25 March] we had received 410 citations. A lot of people have been asking for full-text papers”, a smiling Martín said.

“We are continuously working in the area of inhibitors formed during the pre-treatment” of biomass destined for biochemical conversion to fuels and chemicals, he added;

“We are working both at the lab scale and at the BDP [Biorefinery Demonstration Plant, Örnsköldsvik, Sweden] and with different feedstocks, such as spruce, sugarcane bagasse, cassava stem and wheat straw.

“There are interesting results. We have compared the inhibitor formation among different pre-treatment conditions for different raw materials. We also have a project including different oxidation conditions during the pre-treatment, but these results haven’t been published yet”.

While interest is rife among companies that cooperate with the Bio4Energy researchers, the method is still at an early stage of implementation in industry.

"SEKAB E-Technology is using the method as part of a technique in its offer to clients. This means it is implemented", according to Jönsson, who is a professor at UmU.

However, while new technologies for biochemical conversion of woody materials had been attracting industry's attention, new investments were slow to materialise because companies perceived the risk of financial losses to be high in the current policy context, Jönsson said;

"Long-term political incentives are needed for the technique to be implemented on a large scale".

SEKAB is a company in the Bio4Energy Industrial Network, based the Domsjö Development area at Örnsköldsvik, next to the Domsjö Fabriker biorefinery.

The package of four scientific articles from 2015 and 2016, including the review*, are referenced as follows:

*Jönsson LJ, Martín C. 2016. Pre-treatment of lignocellulose: Formation of inhibitory by-products and strategies for minimising their effects. Bioresource Technology 199, 103-112

Cavka A, Martín C, Alriksson B, Mörtsell M, Jönsson LJ. 2015. Techno-economic evaluation of conditioning with sodium sulfite for bioethanol production from softwood. Bioresource Technology 196, 129-135

Stagge S, Cavka A, Jönsson LJ. 2015. Identification of benzoquinones in pre-treated lignocellulosic feedstocks and inhibitory effects on yeast. AMB Expr. 5, 62

Cavka A, Stagge S, Jönsson LJ. 2015. Identification of small aliphatic aldehydes in pre-treated lignocellulosic feedstocks and evaluation of their inhibitory effects on yeast. J. Agric. Food Chem. 63, 9747−9754

Further useful reading in this context are found in these more recent articles, which are of high relevance to the results from the demonstration-scale experiments at the Biorefinery Demonstration Plant:

​Martín C, Wu G, Wang Z, Stagge S, Jönsson LJ. 2018. Formation of microbial inhibitors in steam-explosion pre-treatment of softwood impregnated with sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide. Bioresource Technology 262, 242–250.

Wang Z, Wu G and Jönsson LJ. 2018. Effects of impregnation of softwood with sulphuric acid and sulphur dioxide on chemical and physical characteristics, enzymatic digestibility and fermentability. Bioresource Technology 247, 200–208

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