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fundamental research

  • Researchers uncover a vital step in the conversion process of biomass to methane

  • 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 Thesis Defence: Characterisation and Densification of Carbonised Lignocellulosic Biomass, Umeå, Sweden

    Bio4Energy PhD student researcher Magnus Rudolfsson will be defending his thesis Characterisation and Densification of Carbonised Lignocellulosic Biomass.

    Venue: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Umeå. Room: Björken.

  • Bio4Energy Thesis Defence: Mixed Fuels Composed of Household Waste Wood, Umeå, Sweden

  • Bio4Energy Thesis Defence: Particle emissions from residential wood and biodiesel combustion, Umeå, Sweden


  • Bio4Energy Thesis Defence: Pretreatment and enzymatic saccharification of lignocellulose, Umeå, Sweden

    Full title: Pretreatment and enzymatic saccharification of lignocellulose: formation and effects of pseudolignin
  • Discovery of Mechanism behind Organisation of Plant Cell Wall Raises Hopes for Biorefinery Development

    EP RES break 17915Bio4Energy researchers Edouard Pesquet and Delphine Ménard in the laboratory at the Umeå Plant Science Centre in Sweden, checking on some of the proteins they found. Photo by Bio4Energy.

    Plant biologists have long tried to come up with a method for making trees produce large amounts of easily extractable biomass for making renewable products such as biofuels and "green" chemicals. Indeed, international conferences such as Lignin 2014 have seen scores or well-respected scientistsbiologists and chemists alikebrood the reasons why successful attempts to increase biomass production have led to the making of sample plants whose stems and branches sag in sad poses or to increased difficulty at the steps of extracting and separating the main components of wood: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.

    Whereas most of these attempts were aimed at trying to increase the production of biomass within the plant cell, a team of scientists based in Sweden and the UK came up with the idea to try to lay bare the processes responsible for the organisation of the cells in the plant's secondary cell wall. Thus the focus is no longer on maximising biomass production, but rather on finding out the exact way in which a plant goes about building its cell walls from within and who is responsible for doing what in that process. The researchers found as many as 605 proteins hard at work, performing specific and mostly non-overlapping tasks to control aspects of the cell wall's organisation such as its thickness, homogeneity, cortical position and patterns.

    "We tried to unravel the processes organising the cell. [What we found is that] the cell wall needs to be placed and organised specifically for wood cells to work. We have identified genes or proteins implicated in the control of this mechanism", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., the Bio4Energy researcher who led the international study published in the well-respected ThePlant Cell scientific journal.

  • Dynamic modelling of homogeneously catalysed glycerol hydrochlorination in bubble column reactor

    de Araujo Filho CAI, Wärnå J, Mondal D, Haase S, Eränen K, Mikkola J-P, Salmi T. 2016. Dynamic modelling of homogeneously catalysedglycerol hydrochlorination in bubble column reactor. Chem.Eng.Sci., 149, 277-295
  • European Chemistry Congress, Rome, Italy

    Euro Chemistry 2016 is a specially designed cluster conference with a
    theme "Exploring recent advances in chemistry, related fields and
    applications" which covers almost all aspect and fields of Chemistry.


    Abstract submission: http://chemistry.conferenceseries.com/europe/abstract-submission.php 
    on or before 27 March 2016.
  • F1000 Recommends Bio4Energy Tool for Cell-trait Quantification

    Urs Fischer Photo by Anna StromUrs Fischer talks up some hybrid aspen plants in a greenhouse at the Umeå Plant Science Centre at Umeå University in Sweden. Photo by Anna Strom©.

    A study by Bio4Energy researchers and partners was recommended by F1000 faculty as an important article in biology. The Faculty of 1000, or F1000, is an international group of academics—faculty members—who have tasked themselves with identifying and recommending the best research output in biology and medicine when it comes to peer-reviewed scientific articles.

    The study by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and others gives an overview of a new package of analytical tools for quantifying large amounts of cellular traits, called phenotypes, in plants such as trees. Using the tools, researchers will be able to extract quantitative data from raw images obtained using state-of-the-art fluorescent microscopy. This has not previously been possible and the researchers expect this feature to speed up the process where large amounts of quantitative information need to be assessed. Hall and Fischer are part of the research platform Bio4Energy Feedstockand affiliated with Umeå University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, respectively.

    The F1000 faculty member making the recommendation, David G. Oppenheimer of the University of Florida at Gainsville, U.S.A. stated in his motivation:

    "The authors' method allows segmentation of images obtained by laser scanning confocal microscopy (or other optical sectioning methods of fluorescently labelled material) followed by assignment of cell types using the Random Forest machine learning algorithm.... I expect that this package will be useful for large-scale quantitative trait loci mapping projects or any projects that require quantification of cellular phenotypes for thousands of individuals."

  • Field Trials Confirm Greater Bioethanol Yields Possible from Genetically Modified Trees

    EwaMellerowicz field Credit E MellerowiczEwa Mellerowicz surveys a hybrid aspen plant at an early stage of field trials in Sweden. Photo by courtesy of Ewa Mellerowicz.Scientists in Bio4Energy and academic colleagues have shown in field trials that aspen trees that were genetically modified (GM) to render more input material for making biofuel from wood than their wildtype counterparts, are robust enough to grow at a real-life plantation. The researchers also found that they could extract more such glucose sugar, more easily, from the GM trees, compared with the wildtype.

    This is the first time such results have been obtained outside of a research laboratory—that is outside of a greenhouse—according to research leader This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) at Umeå, Sweden.

    “The glucose yield was 25 to 30 percent higher in the modified trees compared with the wildtype trees. This is a result obtained without pre-treatment so it means that [the modification helped to] decrease the recalcitrance of the wood and made the raw material easier to transform into sugar”, Mellerowicz told Bio4Energy Communications.

    Mellerowicz is one of the principal investigators on the research and development platform Bio4Energy Feedstock and has been in charge of verifying laboratory results in experimental plantations, or field trials, since the start in 2014 at Våxtorp, Sweden. The scientists planted and monitored more than 600 GM hybrid aspen trees, but which had to be harvested on the early side because of the impact of severe drought conditions in the summer of 2018, when all of Europe experienced heat waves.

  • Five Projects Granted Bio4Energy Scientists by Prestigious Swedish Research Council

    The prestigious Swedish Research Council has granted no less than five new fundamental science projects led by Bio4Energy researchers, in its annual round of funding in Science and Technology.

    • Watching the death of carbon nanoparticles by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion Technologies at RISE Energy Technology Centre.
    • Mechanics and dynamics of cell-to-cell adhesion in plants by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Bio4Energy Feedstock at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
    • Cell-type specific lignification in plant vasculature by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Bio4Energy Feedstock at Umeå University.
    • Multi-scale studies of aqueous neoteric liquids—ionic liquids and deep eutectic solvents by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Bio4Energy System Analysis and Bioeconomy at the Luleå University of Technology.
    • Enzymatic modification of lignin by oxidoreductases from wood-degraded fungi by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Bio4Energy Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion Technologies at Umeå University.
  • KBC Days, Umeå, Sweden

  • Potentially Toxic Chemicals in Thermal Conversion of Biomass Need to Be Investigated, Controlled

    QiujuGao 416Bio4Energy PhD researcher Qiuju Gao checks torrefied material for toxic organic chemicals in a laboratory at the University of York. Photo by courtesy of Qiuju Gao.In large-scale production of heat and electricity in the developed world, emissions from biomass burning are generally well controlled. Recently, however, new high-technological methods have been invented that are designed as a pre-treatment step to various forms of temperature-dependent conversion of renewable biomass to fuels, chemicals and materials, often in combination with heat and/or electricity production.

    Because in such thermal conversion every new process step could be a potential source of undesirable emissions, and because these need to be controlled for the purpose of safeguarding human health and the environment, Bio4Energy scientists set out to investigate the matter with a focus on toxic emissions in relation to pre-treatment technologies that are still in their infancy: Microwave-assisted pyrolysis and torrefaction. While the former is designed to produce a bio oil using microwave technology (and which oil then may be further refined into value-added specialty chemicals), the other is a form of roasting of the biomass which renders light-weight and hydrophobic solid pellets or briquettes. Both methods are performed in an oxygen free, or near oxygen-free, environment.

    In a set of studies carried out by Bio4Energy PhD student This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and colleagues at Umeå University in Sweden and at the University of York in the UK, the researchers wanted to find out whether each of the two technologies gave rise to the formation of dioxins or dioxin-like substances that are toxic organic compounds that can spread over large distances, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and animals and persist for a long time in the environment. These chemicals are regulated under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which is a global treaty agreed under the auspices of the United Nations in 2001. It aims for countries to phase out the use of POPs since these are known to induce cancer and immune system deficiencies in humans.
  • Projects Granted Bio4Energy Researchers on Integrated Climate Assessment, Membranes for Desalination, Plant Cell Biology

    Photo by AnnaStrom2019x400A patch of mainly coniferous forest in northern Sweden, in mid-October 2019. Photo by Anna Strom© 2019.Next year, Bio4Energy scientists will kick off multiannual projects, respectively, on integrated climate assessment of using woody biomass, production of membranes to desalinate sea water and on investigating the “unknowns” of plant cell biology for the ultimate purpose of increasing biomass production. The Swedish Research Council Formas (Formas) or the Swedish Research Council (VR) granted the projects in their respective annual rounds of funding.

    What uses of biomass should be preferred to minimise greenhouse gas emissions?

    The first project is broad in scope and will require the researchers to use a number of system analysis models. The aim is to find out, starting from sustainably managed forests in Sweden, which type of use of the harvested biomass will maximise efficiency, in terms of using bioenergy instead of fossil fuels for the purpose of minimising greenhouse gas emissions. The findings will serve to guide decision-makers in their attempt to understand what mix of technologies to favour and, consequently, what support measures to propose.

    “Understanding the climate impact of different forest biomass paths is paramount for the implementation of appropriate policy measures. The purpose of the project is to improve the effectiveness of reaching the climate targets by advancing our understanding of climate impacts of using biomass, especially trade-offs and interactions of climate effects between the biophysical and economical systems”, says the project grant application.

  • Research Council Formas Grants Projects on Bio-based Carbon Black, Marine Applications, Maritime Fuels

    AllSaintsDay AnnaStrom2020It may be winter in northern Sweden, but the Bio4Energy researchers keep winning new projects. Photo by Anna Strom©2020.Three new projects on bio-based maritime fuels, marine applications and carbon black will kick off thanks to new funding grants from the Research Council Formas, in its annual round of research funding.

    Scientists representing three different Bio4Energy Research and Development Platforms will be running these multi-annual projects, with the main applicants acknowledged as follows:

    • Development of lignin-based eco-friendly antifouling coatings for marine applications (NATURAL) by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Bio4Energy Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion Technologies at the Luleå University of Technology;
    • Green carbon black by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion Technologies at the RISE Energy Technology Center and;
    • Forest-based biofuels for sustainable maritime shipping in the Arctic by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Bio4Energy System Analysis and Bioeconomy at Umeå University.
  • Scale Up of Bio-based Carbon Black to Start a Year from Now

    RISE ETC Bio4Energy2021Bio4Energy partner RISE ETC, together with an industrial consortium, have a new project to scale up production of bio-based carbon black. Photo used with permission.Big strides are about to be made to scale up and improve production of entirely bio-based carbon black, which has characteristics to mimic Industrial Carbon Black.

    The successful creation in 2018 of such “green” carbon black from pyrolysis oil, in turn made from solid biomass, sparked a wave of excitement and raised hopes for rapid industrial scale up.

    However, sometimes one has to fight to realise a great idea. Today, the Bio4Energy scientists behind the invention finally have partners and funding in place to develop a pilot unit that will bring production to one kilogramme per hour, a year from now. While this may seem insignificant, it is not.

    “This means we will make large enough volumes to be able to start testing the material as a replacement product in various applications”, said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., researcher at RISE Energy Technology Center (RISE ETC) and member of Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion Technologies.  

    The industrial chemical and bulk commodity carbon black forms at the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products. It is widely used as a reinforcing filler in rubber products, such as car tyres, and as a colour pigment. It “possibly” causes cancer in humans, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, as a consequence of people inhaling dust containing carbon black fragments.

  • Screening of active solid catalysts for esterification of tall oil fatty acids with methanol,

    Kocík J, Samikannu A, Bourajoini H, Ngoc Pham T, Mikkola J-P, Hájek M, Čapek L. 2016. Screening of active solid catalysts for esterification of tall oil fatty acids with methanol, Journal of Cleaner Production, Available online 22 September
  • Seminar: Accelerated Breeding of Aspen, Umeå, Sweden

    Seminar on Accelerated Breeding of Aspen

    Place: KB2C5, Umeå University

     Host: Hannele Tuominen, Bio4Energy Feedstock