30 Jan 2019

Aitor Barrio

Job title: Senior researcher 


Tell us about your education and working life up to now.

My career began with a PhD in Organic Chemistry from The Complutense University of Madrid, following which I got job at TECNALIA Research & Innovation, a private applied research centre in Spain, as a materials research scientist. TECNALIA R&I participates within a number of local and international projects, including European framework programmes. Throughout my working life I have published many scientific papers, presented at countless international conferences and directed a PhD thesis based on the flammability of polyurethanes.

What is your main expertise?

The development of building fire retardant materials. When I first started at TECNALIA R&I I spent three years in the fire laboratory before becoming responsible for the R&D Fire Laboratory.

What is your work focused on in the Rehap project?

I am the project coordinator of Rehap, but my main focus is as research leader in fire developments and characterisation. We are tasked with researching the improvement of fire behaviour in biobased materials for the building sector.

What are the main challenges you face in this work and how are you meeting these challenges?

As project coordinator one of the main challenges is, unsurprisingly, the coordination of the project as a whole, or put more plainly, solving the issues that a big project generates on a daily basis. My main go-to clause in these situations is to be as open and to actively talk and discuss as much as possible with the different partners to try and group together to solve the problems that arise. This not only keeps me from isolating myself in these situations, but it also usually means the problems are resolved more efficiently and effectively.

How do you see your work helping the project achieve its main objectives?

First and foremost my work as coordinator is critical to ensuring the main objectives of the project are achieved. As a researcher working in my specific field of fire, however, the achievements set out for the unique fire objectives will help towards attaining part of the projects main objectives of validating the success of a real scenario – for Rehap that is the construction materials we are developing.

What impact do you see Rehap having in the future?

In my opinion, I can see that the processes optimised and developed during the project have the real potential to be useful for the valorisation of biomass residues not just in the construction industry but for use in different varying applications. On the other hand, the partial or complete substitution of fossil fuel intermediates by the biobased equivalents that are developed during the project, is a lot more complicated to predict. There are many aspects including political and economical for example, that have a strong influence on how they will penetrate the market.

What do you enjoy more about working on a project like Rehap?

Rehap provides me with the opportunity to work collaboratively with a diverse mix of people from other countries and many different companies and research centres. Each individual brings to the table a wide range of expertise from their differing backgrounds. You’re learning something new about the work all the time, plus you’re meeting great new colleagues and friends.

I try and be open and actively talk with different partners to try and solve the problems that arise with trying to coordinate a project"

How would you like to see your work develop after the project ends?

My answer is once again twofold: as project coordinator it would be fantastic if the developments of Rehap really reach the market and can be used not just in the construction industry, but also further afield. As a researcher, I hope to find a good solution to continue improving the products developed during the project for optimum quality.

Meet the other brains behind Rehap

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/)

07 Jan 2019

How to support the European bioeconomy with Big Data technologies

A pilot initiative has offered a new solution for sustainable forestry. It’s part of a series of activities that handle massive data flows collected through sensors and aerial and satellite imagery

The importance of a well-functioning bioeconomy is increasingly recognised in addressing challenges like climate change, natural resource scarcity and unsustainable consumption patterns. Defined as an economy in which food, materials and energy are derived from renewable biological resources involving the land and the sea, bioeconomy is seen as a central component of sustainable development. To support its growth, the EU-funded DataBio project has been focusing on the production of raw materials from agriculture, forestry and fishery through 26 pilot trials executed by 48 partners from 17 countries and involving over 100 organisations.

As part of these initiatives, the Finnish partners have developed, among others, a mobile application that uses Big Data for forest management. Seppo Huurinainen from MHG Systems Oy Ltd, who coordinates DataBio project’s forestry pilots, explains in a news release: “One of the Finnish consortium’s innovations is a globally unique concept based on forestry standards, which allows landowners and forestry operators to collect data on their forests using a smartphone and upload the data to the Finnish Forest Centre’s forest resource database with the help of an application called Wuudis.” Huurinainen says the application “facilitates the payment of sustainable forestry subsidies and makes it easier to collect information and keep forest inventories up to date.”

Monitoring app

The same new release by project partner VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd adds: “The Wuudis service and the associated mobile application as well as standardised forest resource data concept provided by the Finnish Forest Centre can be easily scaled to other countries.” The application can also be used to monitor the effects of storms, snow, pests and diseases, according the news item. It also notes that another Finnish pilot has developed a service.

The ongoing DataBio (Data-Drive Bioeconomy) project was set up “to show the benefits of Big Data technologies in the raw material production from agriculture, forestry and fishery/aquaculture for the bioeconomy industry to produce food, energy and biomaterials responsibly and sustainably,” as summarised on the project website. The project “proposes to deploy a state of the art, big data platform on top of the existing partners’ infrastructure and solutions – the Big DATABIO Platform.” In addition to Big Data, the platform utilises Earth observation technologies and ICT. As part of its overall methodology, DataBio collaborates with end users and will “proceed to verify the concept through several pilotings in the chosen sectors.”

Pilots under the DataBio project cover precision agriculture that involves olives, fruits, grapes and vegetables, as well as cereals, biomass and fibre crops. Forestry pilots include areas such as forest damage remote sensing, invasive alien species control and monitoring, and a web-mapping service for government decision-making. Fishery pilot focuses on oceanic and pelagic fisheries predictions and planning.

Article sourced from: https://cordis.europa.eu/news/rcn/130442/en

04 Jan 2019

Forest-based biomass industry: Where are we today and where are we going tomorrow?

8,000 years ago, a squirrel could have swung through the trees from Lisbon to Moscow without touching the ground. That’s how abundant forests once were across Europe. This was just one of many interesting facts given out by Berry Wiersum, CEO at paper-based packaging company Sappi Europe, when he gave a snapshot of the European forest bioeconomy at the 8th Nordic Wood Biorefinery Conference (NWBC). This event – a leading meeting forum for wood biorefinery professions – took place at the Scandic Marina Congress Centre in Helsinki, Finland, on 23-25 October and was hosted by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Delegates also heard how the forest-based biomass industry was helping to build a bioeconomy at a time when impending threats of climate change and peak oil were driving the world towards increased use of biomass for chemical compounds and other materials. Wood density in Europe is also growing.

Following on from the conference, Liz Gyekye, senior content manager at Bio-Based World News, caught up with Wiersum to ask him five in-depth key questions on current market trends.

  • What defined the forest-based bioeconomy for you this year compared to 2017?
  • What is happening on the regulatory side?
  • What is happening in China?
  • What trends are we expected to see this year?
  • What is 2019 going to bring for the industry?

Read the full interview at Bio-Based World News

(Article sourced from: www.biobasedworldnews.com)