Tag Archive for: Bio4Energy

The 2021 Bio4Energy Annual Report Is Out

This is the release of the Bio4Energy Annual Report for 2021.

It gives an overview of the research and development conducted on the seven Bio4Energy Research and Development Platforms.

It hints at the work of the Bio4Energy PhD students, by listing the topics for and names of those who successfully defended their thesis, at the end of their PhD project.

It shows which research teams won a special acknowledgement, in the section for Awards and Commissions of Trust.

There is a section for Media and Outreach.

Last but not least, the Bio4Energy Advisory Board is profiled. It is made up of key people for the bio-based sector in Sweden. It serves to guide the Bio4Energy Board and programme managers, in their efforts to make the research environment useful not only to itself, but also to the sector.

Phase Out of Fossil Coal in Sweden’s Iron, Steel Industries on Cards

A project consortium including research groups, technology development companies, plant owners and iron and steel industry; is about to take a large step toward phasing out the use of fossil coal in the iron and steel industries in Sweden.

Thanks to a substantial grant from the Swedish Energy Agency, the partners will be able to deliver a reactor concept and a roadmap detailing the way in which to implement a switch from fossil coal to biocarbon in existing district-heating plants, using fluidised-bed gasification technology.

Whereas fossilised coal is extracted from the Earth’s interior in mining operations, oftentimes transported over long distances and a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions; biocarbon is high-temperature treated biomass from woody residue or industrial bio-based waste that will be sourced regionally by the partners. 

In fact, when treated at a temperature range of 500 – 900 degrees Celsius, biomass becomes almost pure solid carbon and earns the name “biocarbon”. It is seen as carbon “neutral” under the current regulatory framework and so the expectation is that the new technology will deliver net zero emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas. 

Seven-to-nine per cent of global emissions of carbon dioxide hail from iron and steel making operations. In Sweden, where the sector is both an important employer and provider of exports, this figure is 12 per cent.

Bio4Energy’s role in the four-year project is to map out what conditions are needed for biocarbon to be a cost-effective alternative to fossil coal, via modeling and laboratory trials. Notably, the research results will show which biomass properties and mixing behavior inside the reactors are optimal. Professor Kentaro Umeki of Luleå University of Technology will lead these efforts, starting now.

“The reaction [inside the reactor or boiler] has to be precisely controlled for the quality and productivity of the steel to be high”, Umeki said in a conference call with Bio4Energy Communications.

“We have been working for six-seven years to optimise the biocarbon properties and yield”, he added, with reference to other projects, running or concluded.

For all the talk about climate change and fossil fuel phase out, Umeki said, there was an important point that tended to be overlooked in the societal debate.

“It is extremely important to know that carbon is still needed as the transition happens. Almost the only source of renewable carbon is biomass.

“Quite many processes for instance in the petrochemical industry still need carbon, even if you do not see it [as a consumer]. The carbon gotten from biomass is the most cost effective”, he said.

A recent estimate for total biocarbon production needed to replace fossil coal in the sector, put the total to between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes of biocarbon during the years 2030 – 2045, according to background documentation to the consortium’s grant application.

“At the end of the project, there will be a new reactor concept ready to implement and which will provide the industrial partners with up to 80,000 tonnes per annum of biocarbon and a reduction of CO2 emission of about 290,000 tonnes per year”, it said;

“Thus it becomes clear that the proposed technology can deliver future needs of biocarbon to the iron and steel industries on a national level”.

Consortium partners are: Chalmers University of Technology (lead), Luleå University of Technology, RISE Research Institutes of SwedenBioShareE.ONHöganäs and SSAB.

Bio4Energy Celebrates its 100th Thesis Defence by PhD Student

The Bio4Energy research environment is celebrating its 100th thesis defence by a PhD student.

Mojtaba NobandeganiLuleå University of Technology (LTU) receives the honour of being the 100th advanced student to pass his doctoral degree as part of the Bio4Energy cluster.

His thesis Adsorption and mass transport in zeolite membranes is part of the research efforts of the platform Bio4Energy Chemical Catalysis and Separation Technologies.

Education and training are a central mission for Bio4Energy, alongside research and development.

The Bio4Energy programme managers and coordinator for education extend their congratulations to Nobandegani and his supervisor professor Jonas Hedlund of LTU.

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 use products 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 their 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.

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.

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.