New Project to Create Organic Waste-based Biorefinery

Bio4Energy is part of a new multi-partner project to create a biorefinery for organic waste—with end products such as bio-based plastics, animal feed, “green” chemicals, biofuels and higher alcohols (Fusel oil)—in a two-step process.

If successful, the result could become a trendsetter concept for how to create a virtually waste-free system of making the said commodities, but as bio-based alternatives to their current fossil resource-based counterparts.

Researchers at the University of Borås in Sweden gave birth to the idea that the concept of biogas making could be expanded to deliver much more than just biogas car fuel, which is produced from the fermentation of food and agricultural waste in an oxygen-free environment.  

In addition to this kind of bacterial break down of organic residues (anaerobic digestion), they want to add two more main processes to reuse all of the contents of the organic waste feedstock. These processes are referred to as ‘membrane reactors’ and ‘biological augmentation’, in scientific speak.

The new concept will be tested at “large-scale” research facilities tied to the University of Borås, according to assistant professor Naser Tavajohi, who heads up Bio4Energy’s contribution to the project from Umeå University.

Although Tavajohi could not give an exact figure on the envisioned capacity, the scale would be near or at the level of industrial implementation. Consultants from RISE Research Institutes of Sweden were set to assist the academic researchers in some part of the project, he told Bio4Energy Communications in an online interview.

The invention of the new system was a way to create maximal resource efficiency, when it came to reusing organic waste and to “close the loop” so that no contaminants or waste are left at the end of operations, he further explained.

Tavajohi of and his research group have their own niche in the project and will add their expertise in separation and purification, something which is required in almost all chemical plants.

The researchers will come in after the first step of conversion of food or agricultural waste, which will produce volatile fatty acids, non-pure hydrogen and alcohols.

Making ‘green’ hydrogen

Their job will be to invent a completely new membrane process that separates carbon dioxide from hydrogen, which is competitively priced and renders a “green” hydrogen, completely bio-based and free of climate-change inducing gases and fossil resources.

The researchers also are responsible for proposing a process that can brought up to industrial scale. The bio-based hydrogen then is intended for use as fuel cells to power automotive transport.

There is a huge market demand for this type of process. At the same time, hydrogen production comes with challenges of scalability, storage, pricing and origin. Whether or not the hydrogen is of fossil-based origin is key.

“We will be using a bio-based polymer to make the membrane [and to ascertain] that the system is scalable and comes at an acceptable cost”, Tavajohi said.

He confirmed that at the end its four-year term, this project funded by the state-run the Swedish Research Council Formas will have been tested in large-scale research facilities.

“With this project we are moving from fossil sources to bio resources. We are approaching the zero-discharge concept. This means that all waste is taken care of [in the production of] biogas, fertilizers and bioplastics.

“If we have any waste, it will be because we don’t know how to use it”, according to Tavajohi.

Large Project on Integration of UN SDGs in Forest Management to Target Genetic Tree Breeding

An encompassing project is about to kick off with the aim to integrate the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in forest management and climate change adaptation in the boreal belt traversing Scandinavia and Latvia. The state-run Sweden’s Innovation Agency Vinnova is set to fund the effort. 

The three-year project, the Swedish part of which is led by a Bio4Energy scientist, will investigate genetic tree breeding as a means to increase growth and resistance to pests and altered weather conditions of coniferous trees, while also exploring the avenue of mixing in broad-leaved trees in boreal forest plantations as a way of increasing the resilience of the forest ecosystem. Rosario García-Gil is coordinating the effort involving national research agencies in Norway, Finland, Latvia and the Bio4Energy partner Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), as well as a cross-sectoral organisation representing the value chain of forest products, headed up from Norway.

The volume growth of trees may be increased by one fifth, according to the research proposal, using advanced genetic tree breeding methods. This will also shorten a tree’s growth period to maturity, thus shortening the time between plantation and harvesting.

“The analyses [currently available] assessing sustainability goals have not acknowledged the impact of tree breeding and different regeneration methods on growth and resilience of forests and the quality of wood produced”, the proposal says;

“Effects of climate change on forests can be mitigated by tree breeding and optimal deployment, if most crucial changes in climate can be predicted and the genetic basis of adaptation to climate understood”.

The multinational team behind the new Assess4EST project will address these knowledge gaps, by delivering the following:

  • Science-based information to forest owners, managers and policymakers;
  • Records of discussions between companies, policymakers and scientists;
  • Information to tree-breeding programmes;
  • Decision-support tools in the scope of a Forest Reproductive Material scheme and;
  • Participation in policymaking recommendations.

Assess4EST is short for ‘Seeing trees and forests for the future: assessment of trade-offs and potentials to breed and manage forests to meet sustainability goals’.  Rather than listing the target SDGs, the scientists and collaboration partners will focus on the parameters of growth and yield, climatic adaptation, wood quality, disease resistance and biodiversity.

Collaboration partners are the National Resources Institute of Finland, the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research, the Latvian State Forest Research Institute ‘Silava’, WoodWorks! and SLU at Umeå, Sweden.

SLU associate professor Garcia-Gil have won two supporting research projects from the respective funding bodies Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research and Nordic Forest Research. They are called Landscape Breeding: A New Paradigm in Forest Tree Management and; Catching up with climate change by shortcuts in breeding: Joint Nordic efforts to prove the concept of Breeding without Breeding.


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