19 Mar 2019

Engineered microbe may be key to producing plastic from plants

With a few genetic tweaks, a type of soil bacteria with an appetite for hydrocarbons shows promise as a biological factory for converting a renewable — but frustratingly untapped — bounty into a replacement for ubiquitous plastics.

Researchers, like those at the University of Wisconsin–Madison-based, Department of Energy-funded Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, hoping to turn woody plants into a replacement for petroleum in the production of fuels and other chemicals have been after the sugars in the fibrous cellulose that makes up much of the plants’ cell walls.

Much of the work of procuring those sugars involves stripping away lignin, a polymer that fills the gaps between cellulose and other chemical components in those cell walls.

That leaves a lot of useful cellulose, but also a lot of lignin — which has never carried much value. Paper mills have been stripping lignin from wood to make paper for more than a century, and finding so little value in the lignin that it’s simply burned in the mills’ boilers.

“They say you can make anything from lignin except money,” says Miguel Perez, a UW–Madison graduate student in civil and environmental engineering.

But they may not know Novosphingobium aromaticivorans as well as he does.

Perez, civil and environmental engineering professor Daniel Noguera and colleagues at GLBRC and the Wisconsin Energy Institute have published in the journal Green Chemistry a strategy for employing N. aromaticivorans to turn lignin into a more valuable commodity.

“Lignin is the most abundant source — other than petroleum — of aromatic compounds on the planet,” Noguera says, like those used to manufacture chemicals and plastics from petroleum. But the large and complex lignin molecule is notoriously hard to efficiently break into useful constituent pieces.

Enter the bacterium, which was first isolated while thriving in soil rich in aromatic compounds after contamination by petroleum products.

Where other microbes pick and choose, N. aromaticivoransis a biological funnel for the aromatics in lignin. It is unique in that it can digest nearly all of the different pieces of lignin into smaller aromatic hydrocarbons.

“Other microbes tried before may be able to digest a few types of aromatics found in lignin,” Perez says. “When we met this microbe, it was already good at degrading a wide range of compounds. That makes this microbe very promising.”

In the course of its digestion process, the microbe turns those aromatic compounds into 2-pyrone-4,6-dicarboxylic acid — more manageably known as PDC. By removing three genes from their microbe, the researchers turned the intermediate PDC into the end of the line. These engineered bacteria became a funnel into which the different lignin pieces go, and out of which PDC flows.

Bioengineers in Japan have used PDC to make a variety of materials that would be useful for consumer products.

“They have found out the compound performs the same or better than the most common petroleum-based additive to PET polymers — like plastic bottles and synthetic fibers — which are the most common polymers being produced in the world,” Perez says.

Miguel Perez It would be an attractive plastic alternative — one that would break down naturally in the environment, and wouldn’t leach hormone-mimicking compounds into water — if only PDC were easier to come by.

“There’s no industrial process for doing that, because PDC is so difficult to make by existing routes,” says Noguera. “But if we’re making biofuels from cellulose and producing lignin — something we used to just burn — and we can efficiently turn the lignin into PDC, that potentially changes the market for industrial use of this compound.”

For now, the engineered variation on N. aromaticivorans can turn at least 59 percent of lignin’s potentially useful compounds into PDC. But the new study suggests greater potential, and Perez has targets for further manipulation of the microbe.

“If we can make this pipeline produce at a sufficient rate, with a sufficient yield, we might create a new industry,” Noguera says.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation has filed a patent application on this technology.

THIS RESEARCH WAS FUNDED BY GRANTS FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (BER DE-FC02-07ER64494 AND DE-SC0018409) AND THE CHILEAN NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL RESEARCH. 

(Article sourced from: www.news.wisc.edu/engineered-microbe-may-be-key-to-producing-plastic-from-plants/)

14 Mar 2019

Design the penetration of Non-food Crops (NFC) into European agriculture: PANACEA Project

The Horizon 2020 PANACEA project aims to set up a thematic network to foster the effective exchange between research, industry and the farming community in order to design the penetration path of Non-food Crops (NFC) into European agriculture.

Non-food Crops (NFC) are used to produce a wide range of bio-products and bioenergy. In spite of considerable investment in R&D and the increasing need of bio-based industries for feedstock, NFCs are not widespread in EU agriculture. This is mainly due to challenges in supply chains and gaps in policy framework and investment incentives.

Aims of the project

PANACEA project aims to set up a thematic network to foster the effective exchange between research, industry and the farming community. In this way, direct applicable solutions will be widely disseminated as well as grassroots-level needs and innovative ideas will thoroughly captured in order to design the penetration path of NFC into European agriculture.

There are many objectives that PANACEA project is finalized at pursuing.

One of these is to create an inventory of long-term scientific results generated through R&I projects on the sustainable production of NFC as well as to identify those that are close to implementation in agricultural and forestry practice. Another one is to analyse the role that NFC can play in the renaissance of European rural areas taking into consideration the farmers’ and bio-based industries’ needs and interests.

To establish a strong and interactive multi-actor forum will be also fundamental, by involving a wide range of actors from science, industry and agricultural practice that will facilitate capturing and spreading innovative ideas.

At the same time, the PANACEA project will establish capacity building activities through substantial training courses and educational material with practice-oriented knowledge on specific value chains that will be easily accessible and available in the long term beyond the project period. Not only; the projects aims to develop, operate and maintain the PANACEA platform which will offer a range of services to key stakeholders and end-users on NFC, including: knowledge sharing, communication and networking, assessment of the economic and environmental aspects of NFC, and matching between the supply and demand sides.

The last PANACEA’s aim is to disseminate the project findings at large scale, following an extended exploitation and dissemination plan that will be active throughout the project and beyond. In the meanwhile, the project will ensure the sustainability of the Thematic Network on non-food crops through its link with EU wide initiatives, especially the EIP-AGRI and its Operational Groups.

PANACEA’s approach

For achieving its goal, PANACEA follows a multi-actor approach, including in the partnership researchers, agrimarket players, farmers’ organisations and other practitioners from different EU countries. In this way applied research and innovation results on a variety of NFC will flow across geographical areas in EU and reach the practitioners.

The work planned in the network follows interactive procedures, thus the applied knowledge and information already obtained by the practitioners is fed back to the researchers to enrich the relevant scientific research findings. It is recognised that the observed lack in market development for NFC is primarily the result of fragmented communication and slow exchange of science based evidence with day-to-day agricultural practices on the ground. Grassroots-level ideas, needs and success stories across EU will be analysed and extended to practitioners. Roadmaps mainstreaming NFC into European agriculture will be produced.

(Article sourced from: www.besustainablemagazine.com)

05 Mar 2019

US-based scientist uncovers potential ‘sustainable’ refining method for lignin.

Lignocellulosic biorefinery needs to use complete feedstock to produce different products and if possible, high-value products, to make the refinery economically feasible. This requires new biorefinery processes like SOFA.”

A US scientist has claimed to have found a cost-effective way of extracting lignin from lignocellulosic biomass using selective organic solvent extraction. This method is also known as SOFA – a process that uses different conditions such as pH and temperature to derive lignin with different chemistry.

Dr. Joshua Yuan, chair of Synthetic Biology and Renewable products at Texas A&M University (@TAMU), has recently published his research findings in Green Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

He has promoted the use of the SOFA extraction method and other refining processes to produce multiple lignin streams.

This process is used so that a variety of lignin particles with different features can be produced,” Yuan said. “This will allow different functionality. It is an important consideration for applications like drug delivery and nanocomposites.”

As a result, he said, tailoring the lignin chemistry using SOFA provides a sustainable means for upgrading the low-value lignin and thus contributes to the profitability of biorefineries.

High-value products

Sustainable biorefinery heavily depends on the generation of value-added products, particularly from lignin. Despite considerable efforts, the production of fungible lignin bio-products is still hindered by the poor fractionation and low reactivity of lignin, according to the journal article.

Yuan said that lignocellulosic biomass can be used to produce second-generation biofuel, or advanced biofuel, which will be a sustainable and alternative solution to traditional fossil fuel. He added that grass-like sorghum and switchgrass can be grown to fix carbon dioxide and processed into ethanol for fuel.

He explained: “Considering the high yield of energy sorghum, energy cane and other feedstock, the productivity per acre is much higher than corn ethanol. This will reduce carbon balance and improve the energy output of biofuel. For perennial feedstock like switchgrass and energy cane, it also promotes soil and water conservation as well as biodiversity.”

Cost-effectiveness

Yuan said the problem is that lignin is the waste in this biorefinery process, which negatively impacts the economics and sustainability of the biorefinery. He said the utilisation of lignin for high-value products will improve biorefinery cost-effectiveness and sustainability significantly.

“Lignin nanoparticle is a high-value product that could achieve this, when it is used for bulk products like slow-release fertiliser,” he said. “Another very important aspect is that lignin is generally considered safe and biocompatible. And lignin nanoparticle can be used for drug delivery.”

Yuan said one of the most important challenges in biorefinery, specifically lignocellulosic biorefinery, is to utilise lignin for high-value products, Yuan said.

“Most of the current biorefinery configuration focuses on ethanol as the single product, which brings limited value to the output,” he said. “If you look at the corn ethanol biorefinery, they have distillers grains and corn oil as the by-products to add value, so that the refinery can make money. In the same way, the petroleum biorefinery industry utilises every bit of feedstock to produce different (preferably higher value) products.

“Lignocellulosic biorefinery needs to use complete feedstock to produce different products and if possible, high-value products, to make the refinery economically feasible. This requires new biorefinery processes like SOFA.”

Yuan said a plant cell wall has three major components: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Both cellulose and hemicellulose are sugar-based, and can be used for ethanol fermentation.

He went on to say: “But lignin is an aromatic polymer, and we need to find good use for it. This paper provides one of the solutions.

“My lab has been focused on this, and we have developed routes to produce high quality carbon fibre, nanoparticles, asphalt binder modifier, bio-plastics and bio-diesel from lignin. This research was supported by the (US) Department of Energy Bioenergy Technology Office.”

(Article sourced from: www.biobasedworldnews.com/us-scientist-uncovers-potential-sustainable-refining-method-for-lignin)

18 Feb 2019

First production of isobutene from wheat straw at demo scale

Aim of the project is a new value chain combining Global Bioenergies bio-Isobutene process with technologies developed by Clariant and INEOS

  • New phase for the H2020 Optisochem project after 18 months of activity
  • Sugars from wheat straw produced at Clariant’s Sunliquid® pre-commercial plant have been shipped to Global Bioenergies’ Leuna demo plant
  •  Successful test runs for production of straw-based isobutene, batches delivered to INEOS for evaluation

Global Bioenergies today announces that runs using wheat straw hydrolysate provided by its partner Clariant were successfully performed in its Leuna demo plant, leading to the production of cellulosic isobutene for the first time at this scale. These runs were part of OPTISOCHEM, a project which started in June 2017 and was granted €9.8 million by the Bio Based Industry-Joint Undertaking (BBI-JU) as part of the H2020 program.

The aim of the project is to demonstrate a new value chain combining Global Bioenergies bio-Isobutene process with technologies developed by Clariant and INEOS, two of Europe’s leading chemical companies: currently underutilized residual wheat straw has been converted at demo scale into second generation renewable bio-isobutene, and will eventually be transformed into oligomers and polymers usable in lubricants, rubbers, cosmetics, solvents, plastics, or fuels applications. The intense R&D cooperation will continue until May 2021.

OPTISOCHEM focuses on the demonstration of a new value chain, based on the combination of the technologies and know-how of the participants from four EU member states:

  • Conversion of straw into glucose- and xylose-rich hydrolysates by Clariant sunliquid® technology (Germany),
  • Fermentation of the straw hydrolysates into bio-isobutene by Global Bioenergies (France and Germany),
  • Conversion of bio-isobutene into oligomers and polymers by INEOS (Germany and France),
  • Preliminary engineering of an hydrolysate-to-isobutene plant and overall integration with a straw-to-hydrolysate plant, by TechnipFMC and IPSB (France), and
  • Assessment of the sustainability and environmental benefits by the Energy Institute at the JKU Linz (Austria).

The BBI-JU, a public-private partnership between the European Union and the Bio-Industries Consortium (BIC), is dedicated to realizing the European bio-economy potential, turning biological residues and wastes into greener everyday products through innovative technologies and bio-refineries expected to become the heart of the bio-economy.

The BBI-JU selected this project under the name OPTISOCHEM (N°744330), in the frame of the European HORIZON 2020 programme for research and innovation, following a very selective and competitive process led by independent experts.

Markus Rarbach, Head of Biofuels & Derivatives of Clariant comments: “OPTISOCHEM is demonstrating a key value chain within the bio-economy: advanced bio-refineries based on agricultural residues. From our pre-commercial plant in Straubing (Germany) we have supplied cellulosic sugars in tons scale to Global Bioenergies’ facilities for conversion to bio-isobutene during the first period of the project. We are very pleased with the excellent results from all partners and will continue to provide additional quantities in the next phases so as to prepare for eventual commercial production in the future.”

Frederic Pâques, COO of Global Bioenergies declares: “During this first period, we successfully increased the performances of our micro-organism on traditional substrate such as sucrose and adapted our best microbial chassis to straw hydrolysates. We successfully run our pilot facility in Pomacle (France) and our Demo facility in Leuna (Germany) both with straw hydrolysate and sucrose as a benchmark. We expect to produce several tons of bio-isobutene on this new non-conventional feedstock in the remaining periods of the project”

Jean-François Boideau, EMEA Commercial General Manager at INEOS Oligomers, said: “Our sites have over fifty years of experience in the production of oligomers and polymers of isobutene which are used in lubricants, rubbers, cosmetics, plastics, solvents, and fuels. To date, we received several batches of bio-isobutene from Global Bioenergies for qualification purpose, and the quality is promising. During the next phase of the project, INEOS is ready to evaluate conversion of additional quantities of bio-isobutene into downstream products in order to assess the potential of this bio-based feedstock as a building block for end consumer applications.”

(Article sourced from: www.bio-based.eu/first-production-of-isobutene-from-wheat-straw-at-demo-scale/)

13 Feb 2019

Paper, the forgotten forest destroyer

As the world awakes to the threat posed by palm oil and soy to our forests, it’s in danger of overlooking how paper and packaging drives industrial logging, mis-shapes millions of hectares of forest landscapes and creates monoculture plantations, writes Sini Eräjää.

Sini Eräjää is international coordinator at the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a world-wide grouping of over 140 civil society organisations.

Awareness of the destruction wrought by deforestation for agricultural commodities such as beef and soy has – thankfully – grown in recent years among policymakers and the public. Responding to mounting pressure, the European Union (EU) has finally promised to put the issue centre-stage, with its proposed action plan on deforestation.

Less well known are the dangers of forest degradation and loss. This is where forest landscapes are changed, even if not deforested entirely.

Global Forest Watch have made the scale and impacts of this loss strikingly tangible, revealing almost 30 million hectares of forests were lost in 2017 (an area about the size of Italy), with a type of destruction that is on the rise.

Earlier analysis indicates that while about 27% of this forest loss is permanent deforestation, most of it is a different kind of forest loss, like shifting cultivation for rural livelihoods that allows the trees to grow back later, or wildfire.

In about a quarter of the cases, loss is caused by logging by mostly northern forest industries which are often turning natural forests into faster growing plantations, clear cutting northern boreal forests, or just turning diverse ecosystems into more manageable rows of trees.

EU studies into the drivers of deforestation claim that the impacts of forest industries, such as paper, are too small to bother with. But these statistics show that forest industries affect an area similar to that of deforestation, with significant impacts on forests’ biodiversity, resilience and carbon storage capacity.

It’s time the EU took a closer look at the industries driving this.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 35-40 per cent of the trees cut for industrial purposes will be turned into paper products. While much of this wood comes from above mentioned “forestry practices”, there’s clear evidence, including from Indonesia, that some of this wood also comes from deforestation.

The paper and pulp industry is not too choosy about the kind of wood fibre they need – it has to be plentiful, cheap and preferably fast-growing. Vast, monotonous plantations of eucalyptus, acacia and other rapidly-growing species are therefore the side-products of our paper consumption (this kind of wood is not of much interest to the sawnwood or veneer industry).

Paper and pulp industry needs have also been central to the development of “sustainable forest management” definitions which emphasise efficient growth and large volumes of wood, rather than diverse forest ecosystems or wood fibre quality. Thinning and clear-cutting suits the industry much better than the selective logging advocated by many European conservation groups.

As the coordinator of Environmental Paper Network International, people often ask me whether paper is worth worrying about as we move towards paper-free books, bills and news.

But the truth is that paper consumption is shifting, not reducing. Per capita paper consumption is slightly declining in the highest using areas such as the USA and Europe, but this decline has been more than compensated by the increase in paper consumption in Asia.

And while newsprint and printing paper consumption is indeed on the decline, this is more than compensated by the growth in wrapping and packaging paper. A striking 55% of global paper consumption is now made of wrapping and packaging, meaning global paper consumption is also on the rise – from 392 million tonnes in 2010 to 410 million tonnes in 2017.

This is bad news for the forests which are facing increasing pressures, and terrible news for the climate. Paper products have a short lifespan – on average half of the products (and the carbon they stored) are gone in just two years – and the other half doesn’t last much longer. To meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals, we need to immediately move from using trees to produce packaging, to protecting and restoring them, cutting them only for long life products.

If we are serious about restoring our forest landscapes – whether for the sake of climate emissions, wildlife or livelihoods – we need go further than just trying to halt deforestation. To restore existing forests degraded by logging as well as degraded lands, we need less plantations and more complex forests that accumulate carbon in old trees and dense vegetation.

And for such a shift to be possible, we need to use less valuable wood fibres for industrial purposes and particularly for throwaway items like tissues, print papers and packaging, and more for products that store the carbon for longer periods.

The challenge to restore the world’s forests should start with our paper consumption choices.

08 Feb 2019

Bio-based webinar unlocking the potential of lignin

Webinar - The new wave in bio-based materials: maximum value from lignin with industry-specific fractions.

26th February 2019
3am PST / 5am EST /11am UK / 12noon CET / 13.00 EET

And available to watch on-demand afterwards. 

The era of affordable sugars, renewable biochemical and bio-based materials from lignocellulosic feedstock are here. Enabling a paradigm shift from petroleum and change over to renewable biomass, the new fractionation technologies of lignin allow the entire biomass to be utilized. Lignocellulosic biomass – a variety of non-edible, woody materials – is the largest renewable reservoir of fermentable carbohydrates, aromatic compounds, and other chemical building blocks. With the new wave of biotechnology, controlled size, solubility, and activity of lignin can be achieved.

As the exact lignin structure depends on biomass used, lignin fractionation process significantly affects the properties of lignin produced. Most of the lignin produced today is treated as a side stream and mostly used as black liquor for energy purposes. Without treatment, lignin is not usable for value-added products. Controlled fragmentation, polymerization, depolymerization, and activation allows the use of lignin in products such as paints, adhesives, artificial fibers, fertilizers, pesticides and naturally, plastics. Industries such as bio-refining, bio-plastics, and wood processing can directly benefit from solutions allowing for controlled size, solubility, activity, glass transition temperature and morphology of lignin material.

Do join us at a webinar on the new wave in bio-based materials!

Key issue to be discussed: 

  • Industry, academia and innovative SMEs – developing a common understanding of the road map to industry relevant fractions of lignin.
  • The future is here: how technical solutions are ready and lignin-based solutions have market pull.
  • Looking at the ground breaking technologies that are  serving the market with affordable industry specific lignin fractions – without which the bio-refinery concepts will never work
  • All of this is possible with a significantly reduced environmental footprint - find out how.

Presenters: 

Matti Heikklia, CTO, MetGen

Katja Salmenkivi, Development Manager, Metsä Fibre Oy, Finland

Dr. Nicole Labbé, Professor of Biomass Chemistry, Center for Renewable Carbon, The University of Tennessee.

To register for the webinar, please visit the website

(Article sourced from: www.biobasedworldnews.com/bio-based-webinar-unlocking-the-potential-of-lignin)

04 Feb 2019

Rehap to attend World Resources Forum 2019

The 2019 World Resources Forum, ‘Closing Loops – Transitions at work’ will be taking place on February 24-27 in Antwerp, Belgium, and Rehap have been invited to speak during one of the interactive deep-dive sessions, on the progress and results of the project towards a better bio-economy.

For 2019, the World Resources Forum is focused on closing resource loops and putting a circular economy in practice in order to help achieve the Agenda 2030 commitments. Thematic ‘Global Sessions’, with inspiring voices from leading experts will set the scene on key topics, as well as networking events and site visits to foster debate and discussion.

Rehap have been invited to speak as part of BBEPP’s session, Taste and feel the bio-economy - An aperitif, an appetizer? Curious about innovative, biobased materials and products entering the market as we speak? We created a circular bio-economy mood board for you! Come to ‘taste and feel’ the transition at work. We present several concrete real-world examples from different sectors, illustrating tasty and creative solutions for a genuine circular bio-economy.

The session will be taking place on the Tuesday of the three-day forum at 15:30 – 17:00 in the Flanders Meeting & Convention Centre. Aitor Barrio, Rehap project coordinator, will be presenting the most recent results of the project, alongside other speakers from various projects looking at issues of the bio-economy.

For more information on World Resources Forum, visit the website.

29 Jan 2019

Assessment conducted by nova-Institut concludes that first-generation fermentable sugar is appropriate for a sustainable raw material strategy of the European chemical industry

An extensive sustainability study carried out by nova-Institute shows that first-generation fermentable sugar is just as advantageous for a sustainable raw materials strategy of the European chemical industry as second-generation sugar. The results indicate that the poor reputation of first-generation agricultural commodities is in no way scientifically justifiable. It would therefore be counterproductive to restrict the use of sugar plants.

Twelve main criteria were selected to assess the sustainability of first and second generation fermentable sugars. The selection of criteria was based on the latest standards and certification schemes for bio-based fuels and materials, including a wide range of environmental, social and economic aspects. Because of the persistent accusation that the use of first-generation raw materials endangers food security, special attention was given to this particular criterion.

The analysis of the twelve different sustainability criteria shows that all examined raw materials display clear strengths in terms of sustainability, but also certain weaknesses:

All raw materials lead to a considerable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Although second-generation sugars perform better in this regard, the advantage is clearly put into perspective if it is offset against abatement costs. Reducing GHG emissions with second generation sugars is a comparatively expensive way to mitigate climate change.
Considering the often criticised aspect that the use of first generation raw materials has negative effects on food security, the findings actually point in exactly the opposite direction. Competition for arable land is offset by the excellent land-use efficiency of first-generation agricultural crops (especially sugar beet) and the presence of protein-rich by-products (especially wheat and maize). In this context, the use of short-rotation coppice (SRC) for sugar production represents much greater competition for arable land, since the same sugar yield requires a larger cultivation area and provides no additional protein by-products.

The results clearly show that the systematic discrimination of first-generation sugars in public perception and debate is in no way scientifically justifiable.
On the way to a climate-friendly Europe, bio-based chemicals from all raw materials offer advantages in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and should equally be part of a sustainable future strategy for the European chemical industry.
The report analyses the strengths and weaknesses of all available raw materials for the production of bio-based chemicals, based on criteria such as greenhouse gas balance, greenhouse gas abatement costs, land efficiency, food security, protein by-products, employment, rural development, livelihood of farmers and forest workers, direct and indirect risks of land-use change (LUC / iLUC), logistics, infrastructure, availability, traceability, social impacts, biodiversity as well as air and soil quality. The results for the individual plant groups can be summarised as follows:

Sugar plants

The greatest strength of sugar cane and sugar beet is their extraordinarily high land-use efficiency. No other biomass can produce so much fermentable sugar per hectare. A high reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and, above all, the lowest greenhouse gas abatement costs are further advantages. Infrastructure and logistics are well developed in this area and sugar beet by-products are used as animal feed. The biggest disadvantages are the effects of intensive agriculture on water, air and soil and the diversity of species – albeit limited to a comparatively small area due to the high land-use efficiency.

Starch plants

The main advantage of starch plants lies in their protein-containing by-products, which have a high value as animal feed. The land efficiency is lower than for sugar plants, but higher than for wood. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is lower than for other types of biomass. However, the comparatively lower GHG emission reductions are largely based on the specific life cycle analysis standards set out in the Renewable Energy Directive. Infrastructure and logistics are well developed for starch plants. The main disadvantages, as in the case of sugar plants, are the impact on water, air and soil and on biodiversity resulting from intensive agriculture.

Forest timber and short-rotation plantations

The greatest advantage of using wood as a raw material for the production of fermentable sugar is their low competition with arable land and thus the absence of LUC or iLUC. However, for short-rotation coppice this is only the case if they are not cultivated on arable land. In the case of wood, infrastructure and logistics are well developed; for SRC, this is less the case. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is in the same range as for sugar plants, but the greenhouse gas abatement costs are much higher. The main disadvantages in this area are the extremely low productivity per unit area and the lack of by-products for the feed market.

Waste and residual materials

The main strength of the use of waste and residual materials for the production of fermentable sugar lies in the highest reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of all compared groups – partly again due to the special life cycle assessment standards applied in the Renewable Energy Directive – and in the lowest impact on biodiversity, water, air and soil. The main disadvantages are high greenhouse gas abatement costs, poorly developed infrastructure and logistics, low traceability and, above all, limited availability.

The study is available free of charge at www.bio-based.eu/ecology

Press release as PDF file: 19-01-15 PR Sustainability study sugar

(Article sourced from: www.bio-based.eu)

24 Jan 2019

Sweetwoods: Creating high purity lignin and affordable platform chemicals from wood-based sugars

The author and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, no stranger to the beauty of the natural world, famously said that “the wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more.” So much of our world has its roots in our trees, from clothes and furniture to food and paper.

Now one project, SWEETWOODS, made up of nine European companies all of whom have wondered more about trees and their potential, is to begin producing wood-based biomaterials for the first time on an industrial scale.

This unique €43 million bio-economy project, funded by the Bio-based Industries Join Undertaking (BBI JU) is now underway, with its key aim of developing a first-of-its-kind bio-fractionation flagship plant in Estonia to turn sustainable hardwood residues into high purity intermediate building blocks of cellulosic sugars and high-quality lignin.

To learn more about this project that has such huge potential, Bio-Based World News’, Luke Upton spoke exclusively to two members of the consortium, Matti Heikkilä CTO of Finland’s pioneering enzyme technology company MetGen and Peep Pitk, R&D Manager of Europe’s largest pellet producer Graanul Invest that is building up the wood fractionation flagship plant in Estonia.

Matti tells more about the origins of the project; “The concept began around five years ago. We knew about the potential of wood, that much more could be done with it and that a concept of biorefining could transform hardwood into higher added value products. Most of the solutions and technologies to make this happen were ready to be commercialised, but we just needed to match up the skills and partners to make the concept a reality.”

For Peep the opportunities of the partnership are clear: “This project really is a gamechanger.” He explains that it is outdated understanding that the only way to valorise technological wood is via highly resource demanding chemical pulping processes. The wood fractionation concept that we are working on can offer so much more by converting over 90 per cent of wood into useful high value products with small ecological footprint.

What is clear through the conversation with Matti and Peep is the clarity of the SWEETWOODS vision. Unlike some other projects that pass through the bio-economy, the goal, and commercial potential of the offering has been clear from the outset. The consortium powering the project connects all the links in the value chain and covers the entire material process.

By fractionating the wood into pure sugars and lignin it becomes possible to further refine the material into high added value products that can be used to replace oil-based chemicals and plastics. New bio-based consumer products including sports mats, insulation panels and replacements for plastics are just some of the items mentioned in our discussion. Alongside MetGen and AS Graanul Invest, the seven other members of the European wide consortium and Tecnaro Gesellschaft zur industriellen Anwendung Nachwachsender Rohstoffe MBH (Germany), Ultima GMBH (Germany), Recticel N.V. (Belgium), Global Bioenergies (France), 2B Srl (Italy), Vertech Group (France) and Spinverse OY (Finland).

There has been a “spirit of collaboration” among the partners from the very start, states Peep but the project has also been greatly supported by BBI JU, a public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-Based Industries Consortium (BIC) focused on developing the European bio-based economy.

“It’s been very important to have had BBI-JU in supporting us. They have gathered industry experts and offer a long-term, experienced view of what is required to build a successful bioeconomy consortium that can deliver a commercial success,” says Matti. “Without them it would have been far harder to forge this alliance,” added Peep.

The next steps for the project are to build the flagship plant in Estonia to demonstrate its viability at industrial scale. But obviously there are all opportunities to take advantage of this innovative project’s outcomes. “We are very much open for discussions and open for business. And by partnering now, you could still become an early adopter of the novel biomaterials in diversity of end-use cases. We believe this project will change the way the wood industry is perceived,” Matti concludes. To read more about SWEETWOODS Project, click here.

(Article sourced from: www.biobasedworldnews.com)

14 Jan 2019

Pine needles from old Christmas trees could be turned into paint and food sweeteners in the future

Abandoned Christmas trees could be saved from landfill and turned into paint and food sweeteners according to new research by the University of Sheffield.

Christmas trees have hundreds of thousands of pine needles which take a long time to decompose compared to other tree leaves. When they rot, they emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases which then contribute to the carbon footprint of the UK.

Cynthia Kartey, a PhD student from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has found that useful products can be made from the chemicals extracted from pine needles when processed.

The major component (up to 85 per cent) of pine needles is a complex polymer known as lignocellulose. The complexity of this polymer makes using pine needles as a product for biomass energy unattractive and useless to most industrial processes.

Cynthia said: “My research has been focused on the breakdown of this complex structure into simple, high-value industrial chemical feedstocks such as sugars and phenolics, which are used in products like household cleaners and mouthwash.

“Biorefineries would be able to use a relatively simple but unexplored process to break down the pine needles.”

With the aid of heat and solvents such as glycerol, which is cheap and environmentally friendly, the chemical structure of pine needles is broken down into liquid product (bio-oil) and a solid by-product (bio-char).

The bio-oil typically contains glucose, acetic acid and phenol. These chemicals are used in many industries – glucose in the production of sweeteners for food, acetic for making paint, adhesives and even vinegar.

The process is sustainable and creates zero waste as the solid by-product can be useful too in other industrial chemical processes. Fresh trees and older, abandoned Christmas trees can both be used.

Cynthia continued: “In the future, the tree that decorated your house over the festive period could be turned into paint to decorate your house once again.”

The UK uses as many as eight million natural Christmas trees during the festive period every year and sadly, about seven million trees end up in landfill.

If pine needles were collected after Christmas and processed in this way, the chemicals could be used to replace less sustainable chemicals currently used in industry.

This could lead to a decrease in the UK’s carbon footprint by reducing the UK’s dependence on imported artificial plastic-based Christmas trees and a reduction in the amount of biomass waste going to landfill.

Dr James McGregor, senior lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering said: “The use of biomass – materials derived from plants – to produce fuels and chemicals currently manufactured from fossil resources will play a key role in the future global economy.

“If we can utilise materials that would otherwise go to waste in such processes, thereby recycling them, then there are further benefits.

“In our research group we are currently investigating the production of valuable products from a variety of organic wastes, including forestry sources, spent grain from the brewing industry and food waste; alongside investigating processes for the conversion on carbon dioxide into industrial hydrocarbon compounds.”

(Article sourced from: http://news.bio-based.eu/pine-needles-from-old-christmas-trees-could-be-turned-into-paint-and-food-sweeteners-in-the-future/)

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