Tag Archive for: Umeå University

Plastic Waste, Carbon Nano Materials, Photothermal Imaging in New Research Projects

Bio4Energy researchers have won funds from the Swedish Research Council for multi-annual projects on “upcycling” of plastic waste, evaluation of carbon nano materials for use in electrodes and photothermal imaging of fatty acids and droplets.

The projects and their participants are acknowledged as follows:

  • Development of sustainable and efficient processes for upcycling of PET waste into value-added chemicals as building blocks for recyclable materials, Ulrika Rova, Bio4Energy Biochemical Conversion at Luleå University of Technology (LTU). Co-applicants at LTU are Suman Bajracharya, Annie Modestra Jampala and Paul Christakopoulos.
  • Experimental and theoretical evaluation of carbon nano materials with hierarchical porous structures and large surface area for use as sustainable electrodes, Kristiina Oksman, Bio4Energy Biochemical Conversion. Collaboration partners are Staffan Lundström and Andreas Larsson. All are affiliated with LTU.
  • High-speed mid-infrared photothermal imaging of fatty acids and lipid droplets in living cells, Florian Schmidt, Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion at Umeå University.
  • Raman spectroscopy applied for neurosurgery – assistance in decision making on tumor boarders and tumor grade, Kerstin Ramser, Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion at LTU. Collaboration partners are Karin Wårdell, Jan Hillman, Johan Richter, Martin Hallbeck; all of the University of Linköping; as well as Joel Wahl of LTU.

Young Researcher Wins Prize for Development of Sustainable Artificial Membranes

He wants to make environmentally friendly, artificial membranes that mimic the human body’s inbuilt membranes. Like a kidney’s filtering function that, in healthy people, keep functioning through a lifetime, said Naser Tavajohi, assistant professor at Umeå University.

He is one of Bio4Energy’s up-and-coming young researchers, who has just walked the red carpet for having won a prize from the Royal Swedish Academy Skytteanska Samfundet. It is one of 18 Royal Academies in Sweden.

“I have a dream to be a world-leading scientist in my field, who solves the life problems. I love what I am doing”, Tavajohi said in an online interview.

Membrane technology is part of many industrial applications, but they are not necessarily free of negative impacts on the natural environment, he explained;

“We want to make sustainable membranes for ‘green’ and ‘blue’ energy.”

Tavajohi’s group in Bio4Energy Chemical Catalysis and Separation Technologies focuses on making polymeric membranes from bio-based materials or solvents.

Wastewater treatment, energy storage, gas separation and a possible ‘brine refinery’ are target areas for the type of membranes that they have in mind.

The membranes “should be of superior, long-term function. We are trying to mimic biological, smart, stable, long-life membranes”, said the ambitious technology researcher.

In terms of large-scale research and development projects, Tavajohi and group members are part of Swedish national project to create a biorefinery for organic waste.

In the Bio4Energy research environment, they give input to a current project designed to make liquids for carbon dioxide separation from other gases, as well as a past one on bio ethylene purification using energy-efficient technology.

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.

Starting Soon: Training on Developing Biofuels, Chemicals, Materials

Bio4Energy is announcing the start of its flagship training course Biorefinery Pilot Research early April 2022.

It is one of two must-take courses for advanced students interested in innovation and development of advanced biofuels, chemicals and materials from wood or organic waste.

The application opens today and will close 15 March.

Biorefinery Pilot Research is part of the Bio4Energy Graduate School on the Innovative Use of Biomass. It is for PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and industry professionals who want to develop their understanding of the innovation and development process.

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For more details, see the course brochure for Biorefinery Pilot Research and Apply Now.

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.