Change of Leader at Bio4Energy Environment, Nutrient Recycling

The research and development platform Bio4Energy Environment and Nutrient Recycling has a new leader as of March 2022.

Nils Skoglund, associate professor at Bio4Energy host Umeå University, is taking over the platform leadership from Stina Jansson, who has the same title and affiliation, as she takes on more responsibilities for her home department.

The appointment has the blessing of the Bio4Energy Steering Group and Board.

“I am happy to take on this role and look forward to shouldering the responsibility”, Skoglund said.

As all seven Bio4Energy R&D platform leaders, he has a substantial science background; including in Chemistry, Biology and Earth Sciences; and holds a PhD in Energy Technology with specialisation in Thermal Process Chemistry. One of his focal areas is the recovery of phosphorus from biomass ash or organic waste.

He welcomed the confirmation of the continued funding by the Swedish government of the Bio4Energy research environment, which will continue at least until 2024. This would allow the platform to focus its work on medium-term goals, he said.

“I want to prioritise allowing our PhD students to attend at least one international conference each, to let them see the bigger picture of their research and allow them to meet colleagues who are interested in the same thing as themselves”, according to Skoglund.

“For a young researcher, this is important to promote the feeling that he or she is making a contribution”, he explained.

When it came to the research, Skoglund said he was keen for the platform to work focusedly to provide such scientific information that politicians could use to make decisions.

“I want us not only to develop facts and figures, but also to put them together in such a way that they can serve as a basis for decision-making”, Skoglund said.

In the last decade, the research collaboration on the platform has gone down three main avenues. They are the recovery of phosphorus, elimination of organic pollutants and nitrogen use; across the main biomass-based starting materials and their use. In the case of Bio4Energy, these latter are wood and forestry residue, industrial waste and microalgae.

For her part, the outgoing platform leader Jansson has been well-liked by her colleagues and credited with upholding a fruitful climate for discussion during her mandate.

“Changing platform leaders is a sign of health, as it changes the dynamic on the platform and things get looked at with fresh eyes”, said Jansson as she handed over the platforms reins—which took the form at the photo shoot of a relay baton axed from a tree branch—after four-and-a-half years in office.

Quinoa Project Classifies New Building Block for Biorefinery

A long-running research project designed to create the conditions for making renewable fuels, chemicals and pesticides from residues of the agricultural crop quinoa; grown in extreme environments; has hit a major milestone.

Bio4Energy’s long-running ‘Quinoa Project’, started in 2017 by scientists in Sweden and Bolivia, not only has expanded to a multi-partner effort, but also has classified and provided a detailed map of characteristics of a previously unknown bacterium that can be at the base of high value-added biorefinery products.

This bacterium lives on the Andean Altiplano, or high-altitude plateau, of the great mountain range straddling Bolivia and a number of other South American countries. To protect itself from the intense sunlight and high salt concentration of its environment, it produces a type of polymer (a base component of many living organisms), which the scientists believe can be at the base of a number of high value-added biorefinery applications. It is this “exopolysaccharide” polymer that can become products for everyday use down the line.

“We believe that this type of polymer will be useful for producing products of high market value. We can think about applications such as fine chemicals, medical materials and food additives”, said Carlos Martín Medina, Umeå University; who shares the project leadership with Cristhian Carrasco of the Bolivian Universidad Mayor de San Andrés.

This means that scientists across the world who have the competence and access to infrastructure, with the classification of this bacterium, Bacillus atrophaeus, have the possibility to use the new research results for making bio-based applications from crops grown in extreme environments.

In Bolivia and other South American countries, a good part of the population are farmers who rely on the production of the protein-rich staple crop quinoa for subsistence.

One the one hand, demand for this health food from the rest of the world has dwindled as importers such as the U.S.A. have turned to growing the crop domestically. On the other, important negative environmental consequences have sprung from the quinoa production, including depleted and contaminated soils, due to monoculture and use of fossil resource-based fertilizers, as well as a problematic amount of agricultural waste.

Several of the governments of South America see great promise in biorefinery. This means the production of fuels, chemicals and materials; using renewable starting materials such as organic waste, instead of fossil resources such as oil or gas.

However, methods and tools for converting agricultural residue, such as quinoa stalks, must be invented. Given the harsh environment of the high Altiplano—a salt flat situated at an altitude of 3000 – 4500 metre above sea level—the size of the task is great.

In a next step, researchers at Umeå University, Sweden will investigate which industries may benefit most from the present discovery. In other words, use applications will be identified.

The present project is a collaboration between scientists at Umeå University, Bolivian Universidad Mayor de San Andrés of Bolivia and consultant researchers at the RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.

The overall Quinoa Project enjoys backing from the Swedish Research Council, Bio4Energy and the Swedish International Development Agency.

Scientific article

The collaboration partners have described the identification, isolation and characterisation of the new bacterial strain in the following scientific article; Chambi D, Lundqvist J, Nygren E, Romero-Soto L, Marin K, Gorzsás A, Hedenström M, Carlborg M, Broström M, Sundman O, Carrasco C, Jönsson LJ, Martín C. 2022. Production of Exopolysaccharides by Cultivation of Halotolerant Bacillus atrophaeus BU4 in Glucose- and Xylose-Based Synthetic Media and in Hydrolysates of Quinoa StalksFermentation 8(2):79.