Training on Wood Biology, Biotechnology Fills Gap for Advanced Students of Biorefinery

Mini FEATURE. Northern Sweden, last week was home to advanced students affiliated with universities in Finland, Czech Republic, Belgium and Sweden—spending an intensive week at the city of Umeå—to learn about the frontline of science of wood biology and biotechnology.

Hosted by a leading wood biologists, Ewa Mellerowicz of the Umeå Plant Science Centre and Bio4Energy, this ad-hoc training is offered for the second time to equip advanced students interested in wood biology, tree breeding and biorefinery development with an edge.

“This course fills a gap and provides an overview of biological processes, explaining how they lead to developing different kinds of wood, and how they affect wood traits of economic importance”, the online course description says:

“Lectures and seminars are given by world experts in the field”. 

“This course fills a gap and provides an overview of biological processes, explaining how they lead to developing different kinds of wood, and how they affect wood traits of economic importance. Lectures and seminars are given by world experts in the field”.

When I stop by, the students are in full swing presenting posters to each other, a common feature both in advanced education and at scientific conferences.

“It is going great”, Hannele Tuominen, professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and platform leader in Bio4Energy, greets me.

“We have 20 students and here they learn to attack the issues we are discussing from every angle. We have a line up experts here to teach them [on location]. This is our strength”, Tuominen says.

“Most students have a molecular biology or wood chemistry background”, Mellerowicz fills in. She also has an affiliation with the Umeå branch of SLU. She agrees with a smile that it is great but exhausting;

“The students are here all week with a full programme in the daytime and then social activities in the evening”.

Most of them are much too busy liaising with each other to talk to me, but Bio4Energy student Anna Renström of Umeå University, is here just for the evening poster session.

“We have a new publication on wood formation in hybrid aspen that lets us know more about the lignin formation. Now we need to apply [the concept] to other species such as spruce and we need to conduct field trials to understand whether it really works”, she says expertly.

Renström is being supervised by Tuominen and others who are part of the teaching line up and I think to myself that it shows.

Contact

Ewa Mellerowicz, Umeå Plant Science Centre — Affiliation with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

For more information

Wood Biology and Biotechnology, 5 ECTS

Bio4Energy Forest-based Feedstocks

Umeå Plant Science Centre

R&I on Bio Based in EU projects: ‘We Could Be More Proactive’

Bio4Energy’s new coordinator for member organisation Bio-based Industries’ Consortium, Carlos Martín of Umeå University, is in Brussels, Belgium to network with industry members with a view to lay the foundations for an EU project.

February 8 BIC members met to network with companies, consultants and academics. The aim is jointly to apply for funds from the Circular Bio-based Joint Undertaking (CBE JU), which is a partnership between BIC and the European Union.

“On the Bio4Energy platforms we have expertise and knowledge of value for forming strong EU projects”, Martín said.

“On the Bio4Energy platforms we have expertise and knowledge of value for forming strong EU projects”.

“We are interested in the topic Biotech routes to obtain bio-based chemicals or materials to replace animal-derived ones”, he added.

As Martín points out, there is a lot at stake. The CBE JU partnership itself is worth €2 billion, according to its website.

It corresponds to the part of the Horizon Europe research and innovation (R&I) programme that is concerned with “advancing competitive circular bio-based industries”.

More specifically, it aims to accelerate the development of bio-based innovative solutions and their market deployment, while ensuring a high level of environmental performance of bio-based industrial systems.

“We could be more proactive toward partnerships and programs under Horizon 2020, including the [Joint Undertaking]”, Martin said;

“We have strong research that competes well with that of groups leading successful project proposals”.

Carlos Martín Medina is a long-standing member of the research environment Bio4Energy and its research platform Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion. He has been part of developing state-of-the-art pre-treatment methods that allows for easier breakdown of woody biomass for conversion to liquid biofuels, together with current programme manager Leif Jönsson of Umeå University.

Having come to lean toward bio-based materials, Martín spearheaded a large collaboration project with Bolivia to make use of the abundant residue from the country’s production of quinoa, a staple food. In 2019, he took up a professorship at the Inland University of Applied Sciences in Norway, but continues to do research for Bio4Energy and Umeå University on investigating spent mushroom substrate as an input material for making products.

Contact

Carlos Martín

For more information

Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking

Bio4Energy Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion

Related news

‘Getting Prepared to Have Right Material Base’: Chemistry in Biorefinery in New Report – Bio4Energy

Bio4Energy Researchers Meet to Usher in New Developments on Energy, Material Production – Bio4Energy

Quinoa Project Classifies New Building Block for Biorefinery – Bio4Energy

Seeing Possibilities: Meet Bio4Energy’s Coordinator for Swedish funder BioInnovation

Bio4Energy’s new coordinator for BioInnovation, Swedish funder of bio-based innovations, is Ulrika Rova, professor at Luleå University of Technology.

Rova sees herself not only as the research environment’s representative with an overview of possibilities for applying for funds, but also as a facilitator and a bearer of information to potential collaboration partners representing other organisations in the bio-based sector.

“I need first to study the offer and future calls for projects, but then I can be a channel for information going both ways”, Rova told Bio4Energy Communications.

Structured as a member organisation, BioInnovation evaluates and funds a range of projects on behalf of the Swedish national funding agencies Vinnova, Formas and the Swedish Energy Agency. Bio4Energy is a founding member, or a “party”, and involved in its divisions on Materials, as well as Chemicals and Energy.

Structured as a member organisation, BioInnovation evaluates and funds a range of projects on behalf of the Swedish national funding agencies Vinnova, Formas and the Swedish Energy Agency. Bio4Energy is a founding member, or a “party”, and involved in its divisions on Materials, as well as Chemicals and Energy.

“Our vision is that Sweden will have transitioned to a circular economy by 2050. We are going to create optimal conditions for developing the Swedish bio-based sector and create sustainable solutions for a global market”, the Swedish version of BioInnovation’s website said (ed’s translation).

Two projects headed up by Bio4Energy research leaders stand out: Joint production of edible mushroom and advanced biofuel, as well as production of food-grade prebiotics from forest resources and sea squirts, a colonial tunicate.

The latter is a small sea-living invertebrate that has an outer protective cover; a tunic consisting of a cellulose-like substance; which is the target for developing prebiotics for human and animal consumption.

Rova led the prebiotics project. Given that Bio4Energy is a member since 2015, I want to know what might promote a more high-profile participation in BioInnovation-funded projects.

“The requirement of 50 per cent co-funding by proprietary users, that is an industrial partner, could be perceived as a challenge. As an [academic] researcher, you need to have a good contact network in industry”, Rova said.

“I will be participating the annual and biannual meetings and provide an overview of possibilities going both ways”, she said.

Professor Ulrika Rova is a veteran member of Bio4Energy. She served as deputy director of the research environment during its second five-year mandate, ending in 2019. Instrumental in developing education and training, she was the first head of the Bio4Energy Graduate School. She is a senior member of one of Bio4Energy’s research platforms, Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion. Her home organisation is Luleå University of Technology where she is part of a Paul Christakopoulos' research group specialising in biochemical process technology. In later years, the group has been focusing on carbon dioxide capture and reuse, as well as bioprocesses for upcycling of plastics and managing EU projects.

Contact

Ulrika Rova, Bio4Energy Coordinator for BioInnovation — Affiliation with Luleå University of Technology

For more information

BioInnovation

Bio4Energy Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion Technologies

Related News (In Swedish)

Det stora blå – med enorm potential i framtidens hållbara utveckling – BioInnovation

Inhemsk odling av delikata matsvampar i sikte – och biodrivmedel på köpet – BioInnovation

Svensk innovation kan ge billigare matsvampar – BioInnovation

Fördelen med att odla läckra svampar på björkved – BioInnovation

Senior lecturer and instrumentation expert Fredrik Forsberg, at Luleå University of Technology Geolab in 2022. Photo by courtesy of Fredrik Forsberg.

Bio4Energy Partner LTU Part of ‘Largest Investment in Material Science in Sweden’

A Swedish funder of research in the bio-based sector has announced the largest investment ever in the northern European country in terms of sustainable material science, and notably in infrastructure to advance it.

Bio4Energy partner Luleå University of Technology (LTU) is one of seven research universities to benefit, having won a hefty SEK52 million (€4.6 million) grant to fund instrumentation that will allow researchers quickly to measure various material reactions to flow, pressure or load and to variations in climate.

“The equipment will be unique in Sweden. We are right here in northern Sweden where the large industrial investments towards the green transition are located”, said Fredrik Forsberg, Bio4Energy expert at fluid and experimental mechanics at LTU.

“We are going to build a strong node for material science research; focusing on minerals, metals and hydrogen; all of which are essential raw materials in this transition”, Forsberg added.

“We are going to build a strong node for material science research; focusing on minerals, metals and hydrogen; all of which are essential raw materials in this transition”.

The vision of the Wallenberg Initiative Materials Science for Sustainability (WISE), where the seven universities are members, is to “enable sustainable technologies with positive impact on our society by understanding, creating and controlling complex materials”, according to its homepage.

It is the single largest investment in material research in Sweden—the share going to LTU is one tenth of the total—and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation is behind it.

In the case of LTU, the grant monies will be invested both in infrastructure at the university and at the southern Sweden-based synchrotron Max IV Laboratory; where beamlines for very advanced X-ray-based research is available for scientists from all over the world.

“We expect to start using the new equipment a year from now. It will be available to all WISE researchers and for all in joint projects regarding sustainability issues”, Forsberg said.

From the presentation late 2019 of its Green Deal, the European Union started referring to the “green transition” as being a bridge in time to meeting goals in terms of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and arresting environmental degradation.

Advanced Characterisation Techniques at the Luleå Material Imaging and Analysis Facility (WISE ACT @LUMIA) at Luleå University of Technology include high-resolution 3D X-ray imaging (dynamic/high-energy/spectral XCT) and precision milling (laser ablation FIB) coupled with scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The platform offers excellent capabilities for analysis related to the new technologies emerging in northern Sweden, the hotspot for the green transition. Key research areas, in close collaboration with leading industry, include fossil-free steel, carbon dioxide and hydrogen storage, sustainable batteries, extraction of critical raw materials, and additive manufacturing. 
From WISE Technology Platforms, wise-materials.org

Contact

Fredrik Forsberg — Affiliation with Luleå University of Technology

New as of 5 February 2024: Scientific article

Advanced materials provide solutions towards a sustainable world, Nature Materials 17, 1052–1053.

For more information

Wallenberg Initiative Materials Science for Sustainability (WISE)

WISE at Luleå University of Technology (LTU)

Luleå Material Imaging and Analysis Facility

Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion

Season’s Greetings from Bio4Energy

As the season draws to a close, Bio4Energy wants to wish its friends and followers a

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

We wish our researchers and partners to have break over Christmas, to come back strong at work in the New Year.

Education in focus in 2024

For our part, 2024 will have a focus on education with two of the three generic courses of the Bio4Energy Graduate School launching.

Biorefinery Pilot Research, our flagship training where students are introduced to the innovation processes of bio-based applications and technologies by paying visits to industry—both a biorefinery and technology developers—is set to kick off late August.

Systems’ Perspectives of Biomass Resources, gives students the tools with which to place their technology research projects in a regional and global context of biorefinery and bioenergy development, is planned to start sometime in autumn of 2024.

Wood Biology and Biotechnology is an extra special five-day intensive training that is designed to give an edge to students of biorefinery interested in the modification of trees and plants for use as input material in bio-based processes. The knowledge and experienced shared here are not available in textbooks and come from leading scientists, several of whom member of our research platform Bio4Energy Forest-based Feedstock.

Nordic Wood Biorefinery conference to northern Sweden

As is custom, Bio4Enegy will host Researchers’ Meetings for further integration of the research performed on our seven research platforms. The next one is planned for June.

For the first time, the conference Nordic Wood Biorefinery is set to be held Örnsköldsvik, mid-October. Bio4Energy is part of the organisation.

Thank you for 2023! We look forward to continuing the work together with you in 2024

Bio4Energy Graduate School: Development of Biorefinery Innovations Up Next

Bio4Energy’s core curriculum is contained in the courses of its Graduate School. The flagship training Biorefinery Pilot Research gives PhD students and postdoctoral fellows access to the unique park of pilot and demonstration facilities that line the coast of northeastern Sweden, when it comes to the production of advanced biofuels, “green” chemicals and bio-based materials.

Students construct and conduct their own projects to experience the innovation process hands on. First-hand access to professionals in industry and their peers allow for networking. Industry professionals are welcome to apply and to attend the course, to top up their knowledge with the latest in biorefinery development based on residues of woody biomass or organic waste.

A new edition of Biorefinery Pilot Research is scheduled for autumn 2024: End of August to October. First come, first serve!

Moreover, a much awaited new edition of Systems’ Perspectives on Biomass Resources will launch in autumn 2024. Students learn the basics of system analysis, by applying its principles on their own research projects. They also receive an overview of energy and sustainability issues on the global level, framed in the context of biorefinery development.

New course leaders as of November 2023 are Joakim Lundgren, Elisabeth Wetterlund and Andrea Toffolo; all three affiliated with Bio4Energy core partner Luleå University of Technology.

Finally, the new History of Biorefining in Nordic Countries‘ training paints the background of biorefinery development, as well as current trends and progress. Study visits and sessions on sustainability challenges alert students to the fact that we need to do better tomorrow to achieve circularity; efficient and effective production systems with low or no pollution escaping out into the environment.

Carmen Cristescu coordinates History of Biorefining, which just concluded in November this year, with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Umeå, as the hub for lectures and group assignments.

So say our students

PhD students Edouardo Arango-Durango and Mahsa Mehrara traveled from Luleå and the university there to attend the first-ever edition of the course.

“It has been amazing. I am from Colombia where forestry is different. Here [in Sweden] innovation is more advanced. It was an opportunity for me to learn”, Arango-Durango, Thermochemical Conversion, told Bio4Energy Communications at the end of lectures 27 October.

Standing beside him, Mehrara is part of Systems Analysis and Bioeconomy and, in her work, performs simulations to lay at the base of various research investigations.

“I joined because I wanted to know more about the background of my research. It is nice to know [what happens with] the feedstock in the real world”, she said.

“I liked the course, but it could be made more challenging”, Mehrara added.

For more information

Bio4Energy Graduate School

Bio4Energy Board Member Receives Prestigious Botany Prize

A member of the Board of Bio4Energy has won a prestigious prize for academic research efforts related to botany, which is the scientific study of the physiology, structure, genetics, ecology, distribution, classification and economic importance of plants.

Karin Ljung and her research team at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences try to lay bare the ways in which plant hormones—small substances regulating plant growth—control the formation of roots and coordinate the communication between plant tissues above and below ground.

Professor Ljung published more than 160 papers and had her work frequently mentioned by other scientists in their scientific articles. So much so that, since the year of 2014, she has kept making the Clarivate Analytics List of Highly Cited Researchers, according to a press release from her university.

The Roséns Linnaeus’ Prize in Botany and Zoology have been presented every third year since 1935, by the Royal Physiographic Society of Lund, Sweden. The recipients are Swedish researchers “deemed highly deserving”, the press release said.

Ljung received her prize at an award ceremony December 2 at Lund, Sweden.

Biomass Feedstock, PhD Education, Synchrotron Research in Focus at Bio4Energy Event

The recent Bio4Energy Researchers’ Meeting, drawing together sixty of its researchers to meet at Umea in northern Sweden, is real-life example of the deliveries that Bio4Energy took on making as a Strategic Research Environment, appointed by the Swedish government.

Biomass input materials for making renewable fuels, chemicals and materials

The members of the Bio4Energy Forest-based Feedstocks platform are designing trees that are better suited to resist challenging climatic conditions and to grow faster. Tree genes are studied in depth for the purpose of knowing how to enable an easy separation of the polymers in the wood matrix, for the production of advanced biofuels, “green” chemicals and bio-based materials. Four group leaders presented their latest research on wood engineering and characterisation, as well as resilience in times of climate change.

Education and training for advanced students: Tomorrow’s knowledge workers of the bioeconomy

Bio4Enegy’s core curriculum is contained in the courses of its Graduate School. Biorefinery Pilot Research gives students access to the unique park of pilot and demonstration facilities that line the coast of northeastern Sweden. Students construct and conduct their own projects to experience the innovation process hands on. First-hand access to professionals in industry and their peers allow for networking.

The new History of Biorefining in Nordic Countries‘ training paints the background of biorefinery development, as well as current trends and progress. Study visits and sessions on sustainability challenges alert students to the fact that we need to do better tomorrow to achieve circularity; efficient and effective production systems with low or no pollution escaping out into the environment.

Course coordinator Francesco Gentili flagged that Biorefinery Pilot Research will be given in connection with the Nordic Wood Biorefinery Conference at Örnsköldsvik in autumn 2024, while Carmen Cristescu outlined the outcomes of the first ever edition of History of Biorefining, which just concluded in November this year.

Shining bright like a Bio4Energy student

Eleven of them painted the gist of their bio-based projects in minutes-long talks and fleshed them out later on research project posters, which were the focus of discussion during mingling time. Three winners of Best Poster Presentation were selected by a jury composed of more senior Bio4Energy colleagues.

Nitrogen regulated wood formation, Anna Renström — Forest-based Feedstocks

Biopolymers from residues: A Comparative characterisation of Halomonas boliviensis PHB, Diego Miranda — Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion

What Makes a Tree a Tree?, Edouardo Soldado — Forest-based Feedstocks

Conference presentations

Forest feedstocks in the context of climate change, Sonali Ranade — Forest-based Feedstocks

Engineering of forest feedstocks for bioeconomy, Ewa Mellerowicz — Forest-based Feedstocks

Dark matter of the spruce genome, Peter Kindgren — Forest-based Feedstocks

Developments in forest feedstock characterisation, Gerhard Scheepers — Forest-based Feedstocks

Bio4Energy Graduate School: Biorefinery Pilot Research, Francesco Gentili — Enviroment and Nutrient Recycling

National infrastructure and synchrotron-related research, Nils Skoglund — Enviroment and Nutrient Recycling

Treesearch and Formax, Mikael Thyrel — Feedstock Pre-processing

Meeting programme

New Monies for Research to Bio4Energy Scientists from Swedish National Funders

A number of Bio4Energy research leaders have won funds in this year’s round of grants from the prestigious Swedish Research Council VR.

VR made its announcement this month, unveiling multi-million Swedish kronor grants to fund scientific research projects in its category for Natural and Engineering Sciences.

The projects and their participants are listed, as follows.

  • 2ndUpChance: A second chance for Upcycling of Microplastics, Paul Christakopoulos, Luleå University of Technology – Bio4Energy Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion. LTU co-applicants are Kerstin Ramser, Suman Bajracharya, Alok Kumar Patel, Leonidas Matsakas and Ulrika Rova.
  • To Grow or to Defend? Deciphering defence—growth strategies in pine and spruce under local light conditions in Sweden, Rosario García-Gil, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences – Bio4Energy Forest-based Feedstocks. Co-applicants are Malin Elfstrand and Sonali Sachin Ranade, both SLU.
  • Fundamental Understanding of Diffusion in Zeolites, Jonas Hedlund, Luleå University of Technology – Bio4Energy Catalysis and Separation. Co-applicants are Liang Yu, LTU and Igor Zozoulenko, Linköping University.
  • Molecular Control of Carbon Storage in Trees, Totte Nittylä, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences – Bio4Energy Forest-based Feedstocks
  • Heat and Mass Transfer of Reactive Porous Particles, Kentaro Umeki, Luleå University of Technology – Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion. Co-applicant Nils Erland Haugen has a double affiliation to LTU and to SINTEF Energy, respectively.
  • Evolution of Characteristics in Layers of Bed Particles: For next generation of thermal conversion processes for biomass in fluidised beds, Marcus Öhman, Luleå University of Technology – Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion. LTU co-applicant is Fredrik Forsberg.
  • Decoding of the Role of Lignin Chemistry for Plant Growth, Development and Resistance to Drought, Edouard Pesquet, Stockholm University – Bio4Energy Forest-based Feedstocks. Co-applicant is Tanja Slotte, SU.

The latter recipient also scored a multiannual grant for his research proposal to Formas Research Council, which announced the outcome of its Annual Open Call around the same time.

3DWOOD—Printable Wood as an Alternative to Plastic: A composite wood material with new characteristics made from stem cell cultures and glued together with natural lignin, Edouard Pesquet, Stockholm University – Bio4Energy Forest-based Feedstocks. Co-applicant is Aji Mathew, SU.

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Plants Adapt their Lignin Using Chemical ‘Encoding’ Enzymes, New Report Suggests – Bio4Energy

Innovation Award for R&D on Biogas Separation Technology to Bio4Energy Researcher – Bio4Energy

Polymer Lignin May Be Modified for Drought Resistance in Plants – Bio4Energy

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‘Getting Prepared to Have Right Material Base’: Chemistry in Biorefinery in New Report

As economies are moving closer to a substantial fossil fuel phase-out, the need increases for a total overview of what the bio-based sector can bring to the table to replace it.

Bio4Energy researcher Carlos Martín Medina, Biopolymers and Biochemical Conversion, has spearheaded one such initiative giving an overview of how far we have come in terms of knowing the chemistry of the processes in factories where biofuels, “green” chemicals or bio-based materials are made: Biorefineries.

Together with colleagues from Spain and Italy, he has drawn together the latest advice from a range of international scientists on the Chemistry in Biorefineries and what substantial issues remain, in a new report.

“We are all concerned about [the consequences of using] fossil fuels. We need a clear idea of the post-petroleum era. We are getting prepared to have the right material base”, Martín told Bio4Energy Communications in an interview.

The Cuban native is one of Bio4Energy’s truly international PIs, bridging a position between Umeå University, Sweden and the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway.

“What we are contributing with here is a representative overview of recent updates of known issues in biorefineries. These are novel contributions by first line scientists”.

As always when it comes to making commodities—even such that people will want to consume in the future—ventures have to be economically viable, as well as socially and environmentally sustainable.

“It is important to know the chemistry of [every] single process to be able to optimise and achieve higher yields and purity, and to avoid side reactions. In a biorefinery the first goal is to separate the three main components of biomass in the best way possible, so that each can be directed to different end products”, Martín explained.

Such products could be ethanol made from cellulose or resins made from lignin, he said. Although different input biomass materials are in focus in different parts of the world, the lesson contained in the themed collection of articles just out, in many cases are the same.

Is there enough biomass?

Martin’s answer to the question as to whether there is enough biomass for biorefinery production to make a substantial contribution in the post-petroleum era is a resounding “Yes.

“There are many different sources of residual plant biomass: Crop residues, forest residues, wood processing residues.

“Wood should mainly go into building materials and furniture manufacturing. We don’t want to clear out forests, [but instead] take advantage of materials that are not exploited today”.

The research environment Bio4Energy makes methods and tools for conducting biorefinery—a refinery based on biomass residues from various sectors to produce renewable fuel, materials and chemicals.  

For more information

Chemistry in Biorefineries is a themed collection of articles, published in an Advances journal by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Editorial contacts

Carlos Martín Medina, Alejandro Rodríguez and Fabio Montagnaro