30 Jul 2018

Beets and carrots could lead to stronger and greener buildings

According to engineers, root vegetables aren’t only good for the body. Their fibres could also help make concrete mixtures stronger and more eco-friendly.

Construction projects have a significant impact on our environment. To combat this, stakeholders in the academic and industrial sectors have been looking for ways to make the industry more environment friendly. The EU-funded project B-SMART will be contributing to these efforts by focusing on concrete and the more culpable of its ingredients: cement.

Led by Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, the project will be investigating how nanoplatelets extracted from the fibres of root vegetables can make concrete mixtures more robust and more environment friendly. So far, initial tests have shown that adding nanoplatelets from sugar beet or carrot to these mixtures greatly enhances the mechanical properties of concrete.

According to lead researcher Prof. Mohamed Saafi from Lancaster University, the novel cement nanocomposites developed as part of this project “are made by combining ordinary Portland cement with nano platelets extracted from waste root vegetables taken from the food industry.”

“The composites are not only superior to current cement products in terms of mechanical and microstructure properties but also use smaller amounts of cement,” Prof. Saafi said in the news item posted on the University website. “This significantly reduces both the energy consumption and CO2 emissions associated with cement manufacturing.”

A closer look at the environmental impact of concrete

The concrete industry is one of the biggest producers of CO2. The ingredient largely responsible for this is ordinary Portland cement, one of the main components of concrete. The volume of CO2 emitted during concrete production is directly proportional to the amount of cement used in the concrete mixture. Currently, for every tonne of cement made, about 900 kg of CO2 are emitted, corresponding to close to 90 % of the emissions associated with the average concrete mix.

The carbon-intensive cement production process is responsible for 8 % of total CO2 emissions worldwide. Given recent trends, cement production is expected to double in the next 30 years.

How root vegetables help

Standard concrete is made with water, aggregate (gravel, rock or sand), and Portland cement. Cement is the binding agent that hardens and strengthens the concrete. But when the nanosized platelets of root vegetables are added to the standard concrete mix, the amount of calcium silicate hydrate – the product responsible for making concrete strong – is increased.

The researchers found that adding the nanoplatelets made the concrete so much stronger that 40 kg less Portland cement was needed per cubic metre of concrete. This decrease corresponds to 40 kg less CO2 for the same volume of concrete. A stronger root vegetable mixture consequently means that less concrete would need to be used in buildings, resulting in significant environmental benefits.

The research team’s vegetable-enhanced concretes were also found to perform better than other cement additives available on the market such as graphene and carbon nanotubes. Additionally, they also proved to be much cheaper to produce. Other advantages included a denser microstructure, which helps to prevent corrosion and makes the materials longer lasting.

B-SMART (Biomaterials derived from food waste as a green route for the design of eco-friendly, smart and high performance cementitious composites for the next generation multifunctional built infrastructure) will also be investigating the possibility of reinforcing existing concrete structures with very thin sheets made from vegetable nanoplatelets.

For more information, please see:
CORDIS project web page

Article written by: https://cordis.europa.eu/news/rcn/129748_en.html?WT.mc_id=email-Notification

23 Jul 2018

Introducing the new ‘promiscuous’ enzyme that helps turn plant waste into sustainable products

“To protect their sugar-containing cellulose, plants have evolved a fascinatingly complicated materials called lignin that only a small selection of fungi and bacteria can tackle. However, lignin represents a vast potential source of sustainable chemicals..”

A new family of enzymes has been discovered which paves the way to convert plant waste into sustainable and high-value products such as nylon, plastics, chemicals, and fuels. The discovery was led by members of the same UK-US enzyme engineering team which, in April, improved a plastic-digesting enzyme, a potential breakthrough for the recycling of plastic waste.

The new family of enzymes are active on the building blocks of lignin – one of the main components of plants, which scientists have been trying for decades to find a way of breaking down efficiently.

Professor McGeehan, Director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth, said: “We have assembled an international team for the discovery and engineering of naturally occurring enzymes. Enzymes are biological catalysts that can perform incredible reactions, breaking down some of our toughest natural and man-made polymers.

The study published Nature Communications was led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, Dr Gregg Beckham at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Professor Jen Dubois at Montana State University, and Professor Ken Houk at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“To protect their sugar-containing cellulose, plants have evolved a fascinatingly complicated material called lignin that only a small selection of fungi and bacteria can tackle. However, lignin represents a vast potential source of sustainable chemicals, so if we can find a way to extract and use those building blocks, we can create great things.”

Lignin acts as scaffolding in plants and is central to water-delivery. It provides strength and also defence against pathogens.

“It’s an amazing material,” Professor McGeehan said, “cellulose and lignin are among the most abundant biopolymers on earth. The success of plants is largely due to the clever mixture of these polymers to create lignocellulose, a material that is challenging to digest.”

The research team found a way of releasing a key bottleneck in the process of breaking down lignin to its basic chemicals. The results provide a route to making new materials and chemicals such as nylon, bio-plastics, and even carbon fibre, from what has previously been a waste product.

The discovery also offers additional environmental benefits – creating products from lignin reduces our reliance on oil to make everyday products and offers an attractive alternative to burning it, helping to reduce CO2 emissions.

The research team was made up of experts in biophysics, structural biology, synthetic biology quantum chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular dynamics at the University of Portsmouth and NREL, and at the US universities of Montana State, Georgia, and California and Brazil’s University of Campinas.

Sam Mallinson, a PhD student in structural biology at the University of Portsmouth and first author on the paper said: “There is a long-standing phrase – you can make anything out of lignin except money – but by harnessing the power of enzymes, this is set to change. Using advanced techniques from x-ray crystallography at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron, to advanced computer modelling, we have been able to understand the detailed workings of a brand new enzyme system.”

The enzyme is a new class of cytochrome P450 enzyme can degrade a lot of different lignin-based substrates. That’s good because it means it can then be engineered to be a specialist for the specific molecule and we can evolve it further to push it in a certain direction.

“We now have one of the most well-known, versatile, engineer able and evolvable classes of enzymes ready to go as a foothold for biotechnology to move forward and make the enzyme better.”

The research comes on the heels of another study just published in the journal of PNAS, led by Professor Ellen Neidle at the University of Georgia together with members of his team, which found a way of speeding up the evolution of this enzyme. The group are now working together to discover and evolve even faster enzymes for turning lignin into high-value sustainable products.

Article written by: https://www.biobasedworldnews.com/introducing-the-new-promiscuous-enzyme-that-helps-turn-plant-waste-into-sustainable-products

17 Jul 2018

AGRIMAX: from Agricultural and Food-processing Waste to Bioproducts

How can we use agricultural and food-processing waste to create useful products for a sustainable Europe?

Around one third of all food produced each year is wasted and around half of this waste arises at the field and food processing levels. In Europe alone, around 90 million tonnes of food and 700 million tonnes of crop are wasted every year. Part of the solution lies in projects such as Agrimax. This four-year, EU-funded project involves 29 partners across 11 European Countries and is developing and demonstrating the production of multiple, high value products from crop and food processing waste. The project is also developing economically competitive routes to the commercialisation of these products, using flexible, and possibly cooperatively run, processing facilities. The aim is to maximise the EU’s sustainability, while providing new biobased compounds for the chemicals, food-packaging and agricultural sectors.

Agrimax will take the residues and the by-products from tomatoes and cereals in Italy and process them in a new, flexible, multi-feedstock pilot biorefinery which is being built by the project. Another new pilot plant in Spain will do the same for olive and potato waste.  The pilot plants are now in the final specification and pre-construction phase and are scheduled to be operational by the end of 2018. Their target is to convert 40% of the waste they receive into high-value material.  An online platform to coordinate the provision of this waste will help maximise the use of these pilot plants throughout the year.

The by-products and residues will be broken down, first using ultrasound and heat, and then using enzymes and chemical reactions. From this process, a cascade of high-value products will be extracted. For the food industry this will include: anti-oxidants to improve food properties;  and cellulose fibres to add texture to soups and juices. For the farming sector, products will include biodegradable mulching films and pots in addition to biofertilizers. For the packaging sectors new biobased solutions will be developed to improve the properties of the materials and extend the shelf life of the products. To validate these innovative biobased products they will be tested by end users. Any remaining biomass will be used for biogas or returned to the land for soil enrichment. Importantly, the project will also assess the environmental, social and economic sustainability of this approach. Life cycle analysis will be used to assess the total environmental impact of the new production pathways. The effect of the new farming practices and new fertilisers on soil health will also be assessed.

Last autumn, the project held a workshop which attracted over 70 stakeholders from across Europe. These stakeholders included farmers and food manufacturers from the olive, tomato, potato and cereal processors industries as well as potential end-users of Agrimax products. The insights from this workshop has provided essential information into the sustainable supply chains that Agrimax seeks to create, identifying critical stakeholder issues such as contextual constraints and drivers that must be addressed in the development of effective circular business models. These insights will be important in developing economically viable routes to commercialisation of the Agrimax processes.

Expected impacts

The first outcomes of project will start when the pilot plants are operational, and the bio-based products obtained are validated for their final applications. The project is expected to achieve several impacts:

  • Demonstrate new value chains for higher added value products, open new markets, connect organisations and sectors that have not previously worked together;
  • Improve the environmental performance and cost efficiency of the biorefinery process compared to the current state-of-the-art;
  • Demonstrate an integrated process with more than 40% of the raw material valorised into high added value products;
  • Validate new products with a 2-5 times higher value than the current applications of the raw material, leading to a significantly higher total valorisation of the agricultural crops so contributing to rural development and employment;
  • The final consumer products are expected to have a better overall sustainability score than their fossil-based counterparts and meet a clear market demand;
  • Reduce waste and our dependence on fossil-fuels, Agrimax will help to maximise the EU’s sustainability, while creating new growth and jobs.

For futher information, visit Agrimax Website, with publicly available resources (including a short animation to easily explain the aims of the project).

(Article written by: www.besustainablemagazine.com/cms2/agrimax-project-from-agricultural-and-food-processing-waste-to-bioproducts/)

10 Jul 2018

Developments in 2,3-butanediol production from biomass

Rehap have been developing 2,3-butanediol (BDO) production from two biomasses in the project, bark and poplar, and here are some of their most recent advances.

In previous research, VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland developed a technique for the hot water extraction of tannins from soft wood bark and successfully transferred it to the lab at BBEPP. At BBEPP, this technique to obtain cellulose and lignin/tannin fractions was performed and evaluated and successfully scaled-up to pilot scale.

In parallel to this development, partners, TECNALIA have been working on the saccharification – the process of breaking down a complex carbohydrate, in this case cellulose, using hydrolysis into its simplest sugars – of the cellulosic residue generated by the purification of lignin from the woody material, poplar.

Tests have selected the best enzymes and hydrolysis conditions that can increase the glucose yield and minimise the production of inhibitors that could affect the course of fermentation at the next step. The hydrolysate, this is the substance left over from hydrolysis, was best obtained using the purification method otherwise enzymes remain in their crude form and cannot be used.

Once the substance was obtained, BIOSYNCAUCHO, a company that aims to develop high-added value chemical products from renewable raw materials, tested and determined the best conditions for the fermentation of sugars to 2,3-butanediol (BDO), a renewable chemical building block. Promising results from poplar’s second generation sugars have revealed close comparisons to 2,3-BDO production using first generation sugars; sugars found in food crops using standard processing technologies.

In other developments, the fermentability of the sugars obtained from bark in BBEPP at pilot scale, have also been optimised by BIOSYNCAUCHO with excellent results in terms of 2,3-BDO production, yield and productivity. As found with the process used in poplar, the purification procedures are critical to avoid the presence of inhibitors.

These two results demonstrate that the use of second generation sugars from agroforestry waste in the Rehap project, obtained after the processing of bark and poplar, is a real alternative to using first generation sugars for the production of 2,3-BDO, successfully reaching one of the projects vital objectives.

Next stage

The chosen protocols for the enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose residues from poplar and the fermentability conditions to produce 2,3-BDO are being transferred to BBEPP to scale up and validate all the processes. From here, if successfully, the required amount of 2,3-BDO can be used for further project developments.

03 Jul 2018

BIOCHEMTEX (CTXI) – optimising second generation technology

The aim of one of Rehap’s subtask is to optimise Biochemtex’s second generation (2G) technology to process lignocellulosic biomasses at pilot and demo scale in order to produce the lignin-rich residue and use it as starting material for the recovery of lignin and sugars for further project research.

The CTXI 2G technology is a breakthrough process able to produce fermentable sugars from lignocellulosic biomass which can be easily converted into bio-fuels and/or bio-chemicals.  The main process steps for the production of bioethanol for valorisation in this 2G process include:

  • Pre-treatment of biomass to disrupt the lignocellulosic matrix and solubilise specific sugars,
  • Hydrolysis (a reaction with water) to reduce the cellulose and hemicellulose into fermentable sugars,
  • Fermentation of sugars to ethanol,
  • The separation of solid and liquid to achieve the solid lignin, the remaining ethanol is recovered and dehydrated

During the Rehap project, CTXI evaluated the woody material, poplar, together with state-of-the-art wheat straw, in order to increase the flexibility of its conversion process to several types of lignocellulosic feedstock. None of which are in competition with food and feed.

The results confirmed that just like wheat straw, poplar presents good compositional characteristics, in terms of cellulose and hemicellulose, that allow this feedstock to be treated with 2G technology for the production of bioethanol.

Poplar was selected as a lignocellulosic material for the Rehap project improving the process of obtaining bioethanol from this material. The necessary amount of lignin co-product was produced for the subsequent R&D activities carried out by partners TECNALIA and BBEPP at lab and pilot scale, respectively.

The lignin-rich stream which will be used as feedstock for the processes in the Rehap project, is generated by the separation of solid content from the stillage recovered at the bottom of the beer stripper column in the 2G plant. This solid content is characterised by having around a 60 - 70% moisture content (MC).

In order to optimise the lignin 2G co-product for it to be used in different types of valorisations, as well as improve the power plant and water recycle processes at industrial demo scale,  CTXI carried out tests on separating the liquid and solids using polyelectrolytes and evaluating the drying process. This separation modifies lignin into a transportable solid.

The combination of separating large amounts of solids from liquids using polyelectrolytes as a separating agent as well as the drying technique, is a good solution to significantly reduce the moisture content (from 60-70% by 7-10%) to allow lignin co-product to be used successfully for combustion and/or chemical valorisation.

02 Jul 2018

Forwarder2020: Sustainable and Efficient Forest Management

Forest biomass is currently one of the most important sources of renewable energy and accounts for almost half of the EU´s total renewable energy consumption; this is in addition to the very important use of round wood from forests. Besides raw materials, forests also provide a wide range of vital non-wood services that should be protected during wood extraction. In order to make forestry sustainable, it is essential to use commercial vehicles that will affect the forest ecosystem as little as possible. To achieve this forest machine manufacturer Hohenloher Spezial Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG (HSM) has launched the innovation project Forwarder2020: main aim of the project is improving the sustainability of wood production and delivery as well as operational forest management and planning. Within the project innovations for more efficient forwarders, essential wood extraction and transportation vehicles will be developed and tested under real conditions.

Over the course of 3 years (2016-2019) project coordinator HSM together with 13 European partners from industry and science in 6 countries will work on 5 innovative modules for forwarders. So they will gather their expertise to advance diverse technologies, which will contribute to smart and sustainable logging operations using innovative forestry machines.

The innovations targeted (fig. 1) concern a more efficient power-split hydrostatic-mechanical transmission, a hydro-pneumatic suspension, a new hydraulic system for the crane with energy recuperation, a bogie axle with three driven wheels for the timber load and a new monitoring system for documentation and active operations control.

The importance of innovative forestry machines

The combined effect of these innovative modules will be to reduce the fuel consumption by 30% and the impact on the soil (reduction of rut depth and dynamic wheel load) by 30%. They also allow more precise planning of the tracks and documentation of the loads carried on. Altogether the innovations will contribute to reduce the environmental impact of forest management and harvesting operations while cutting operating costs and reducing the risks of occupational disease for forest operators. Finally, the company HSM and the consortium expect to supply to the market a unique and modular system of competitive high-end solutions which offers the customer the possibility to choose its equipment and then bear no higher costs for the modules not chosen.

“In the effort of rendering the forest operations more sustainable, forwarders are of particular interest because these forestry machines have the highest wheel-load and the biggest impact on unpaved forest soils. They also bridge big travelling distances between the felling points in the stand and the road side timber depots. The reduction of the fuel consumption, of the impact of the machine on the soil and on the health of the operators through the Forwarder2020 innovative modules will then be of prime importance not only for the sustainability of the logging but also on the economic potential of the forestry companies, our clients. “, states Mr. Felix Fürst zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg, coordinator of Forwarder2020 project and CEO at HSM.

The Forwarder2020 prototype

The integration of 3 out of the 5 innovative modules into a completely running first prototype is achieved by now and field tests under harsh forest conditions were carried out from 28thMarch to 13th April 2018 under operation of Forstdienstleistungen Hegenbarth (FDH) and supervision of Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH) in Saxony. The test site is located near Grillenburg, Saxony and is owned by “Staatsbetrieb Sachsenforst”. The forwarding was part of salvage harvesting operations on a wind thrown spruce dominated stand. The tests included preparative test runs, hardship tests, but were dominated by the scientific time study and reference cycle generation. The data evaluation of these field tests is still in progress. However it is evident that the tests had been very satisfying. The machine works very well and without any failures. The rut depths caused by the bogie tracks are even lower than expected. The data transmission to the monitoring system as well as the cloud connection worked well for different data resolution setups up to high resolution stress level tests.

The machine will be ready for the transport to the demonstration site in Scotland by the end of April. In Scotland further tests under forest conditions will continue in May 2018 and later on the machine will be tested additionally in Lithuania. The second prototype will be ready for first full field tests in autumn and will be tested under forest conditions in Romania.

(Article written by: Janina Kouvaris, Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (SEZ)Posted by: www.besustainablemagazine.com/cms2/forwarder2020-sustainable-and-efficient-forest-management)