Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems

Biorefineries

Biorefineries research group is led by Prof. Herbert Sixta. The group's research covers the entire value chain from the fractionation of the lignocellulosic biomass to valorization of the isolated biopolymers, with the aim of sustainably producing commodities analogous to fossil-based products.
CHEM_Bio_Marianna_Granatier_From wood to fiber
Marianna Granatier, From wood to fiber

Research themes:

1. Biomass fractionation - chemical pulping refineries and novel fractionation processes:

We investigate radically new energy and resource efficient production technologiesfor chemical pulping, e.g. Kraft-Oxygen Delignification (KrOxy) process and new dissolving pulp technologies. In addition, our research group develops novel biomass fractionation processes based on the utilization of Biomass valorisationsupercritical water and green solvents, e.g. gamma-valerolactone (GVL).

 

2. Biomass valorisation:

Cellulose: We study conversion of cellulose e.g. into man-made cellulose fibers and all-cellulose composites.

Hemicelluloses: Our research topics include the valorisation of xylan from alkaline extractions, production of xylo-oligosaccharides and catalytic conversion of biomass-derived sugars into furans.

Lignin: Lignin is an interesting biomass component which can be converted into valuable products such as bio-oil. Lignin-cellulose blends can be used e.g. as precursor fibers for carbon fibers, or as natural dye in textiles.

Our versatile reactor portfolio enables flexible pulping experiments from small lab-scale (30 mL) to pilot scale (10 L), including both traditional (prehydrolysis) kraft and novel Organosolv processes. Elemental-Chlorine-Free (ECF) and Total-Chlorine-Free (TCF) bleaching techniques are readily available.

Our flagship research in biomass valorization is the production of novel man-made cellulose fibers for the circular economy by the dry-jet-wet spinning Ioncell® process, which convert cellulose from virgin wood pulp or cellulosic textile waste into high-quality, high-strength textile fibers. In addition, our research group is equipped with fiber characterization equipment and yarn spinning machinery. We also investigate in the conversion of extracted hemicelluloses and lignin to high value products such as furanic platform chemicals, monoaromatic compounds and bio-oil. Our lab developed advanced chromatography methods (HPLC, CE, IC, GPC) for comprehensive analysis of complex product mixtures.

 

Examples of ongoing research projects:

  • Trash-2-Cash (EU Horizon 2020)
  • SolvRec (Business Finland)
  • iCom (Business Finland)
  • ALL-CELL (FiDiPro, Prof. Tatiana Budtova)
  • WoCaFi (ERC starting grant, Dr. Michael Hummel)
  • Tekide (ERDF)

ALL-CELL: From ultra-light to ultra-strong all-cellulose composites via green processing

Finland Distinguished Professor grant awarded to Prof. Tatiana Budtova (Center for Materials Forming of MINES ParisTech, France). The goal of the 4-year project (started 2016) is to imagine, prepare and characterize new fully bio-based materials, all-cellulose composites.

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Feng Chen, Tatiana Budtova and Oona Korhonen - ALL-CELL team. Photo by Eveliina Jutila
Aalto University / Ioncell logo

Ioncell

Ioncell-F is a technology that turns used textiles, pulp or even old newspapers into new textile fibers sustainably and without harmful chemicals. The process converts cellulose into fibers which in turn can be made into long-lasting fabrics.

Read more about the Ioncell process and our projects at ioncell.fi!

Twitter: @IoncellFibers

ioncell.fi

Awards:

The Ioncell-F process was granted the Global Change Award 2016 by the H&M Conscious Foundation, the Paper Recycling Award 2015 of the European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC), and the DIA Innovation Award 2018.

Ioncell fibers:

President Sauli Niinistö and Jenni Haukio at 2018 Finnish Independence Day reception. Photo: Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva

Mrs. Jenni Haukio’s gala dress in the Independence Day Reception 6.12.2018; photo: Vesa Moilanen, Lehtikuva. Textile design: Helmi Liikanen (ARTS), dress design: Emma Saarnio (ARTS)

CHEM_Bio_Ioncell_from jeans to scarf

A scarf made of Ioncell® fibers from recycled waste cotton and given to president Macron

CHEM_Bio_IOncell Marimekko dress

Marimekko’s Unikko dress. It was produced form Ioncell®/Tencel™ blend woven fabric. Photo: Sebastian Johansson, dress design: Riikka Buri, Marimekko

CHEM_Bio_Ioncell dress group

The Ioncell dress group

γ-valerolactone biorefinery

γ-valerolactone pulping is a novel organic solvent fractionation process developed by Professor Herbert Sixta’s Biorefineries research group.

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GVL biorefinery Photo: Aalto University / Anni Hanén
CHEM_Bio_Herbert Sixta

We urge not only for investment in pulping research, but also for the commitment of young researchers.Together we make pulping great again!

Herbert Sixta, head of the research group
Ioncell thread on four different colors

The textile industry needs sustainable fibers produced from renewable or recycled sources, which can be recycled at the end of their life and which do not produce micro-plastics.  The demand for textile fibers is growing due to population growth and living standards. Currently, most textile fibers are synthetic, e.g. polyester, and are made from non-renewable sources. Cotton cultivation causes environmental problems due to the high consumption of irrigation water, pesticides and fertilizers. When textiles made of synthetic fibres are washed and worn, small fragments are released, causing microplastic contamination.

Aalto University offers the opportunity to study the raw material chemistry and process engineering necessary for the development of a sustainable textile industry, thereby combining materials research with textile and fashion design.

Production of commodities from biomass is the most viable option in the foreseeable future to mitigate the climate changes.

The raw materials of novel man-made cellulose fibers that we are developing in our research group are virgin pulp and recycled cotton waste. Cellulose pulp is made from smaller trees, and thinning stimulates the growth of remaining trees, thereby increasing carbons storage. When pulp is used for long-lasting products like textiles, the carbon is stored in the product. The recycling of cellulosic textiles even prolongs the carbon sink

CHEM_Bio_Biorefineries group

Related content:

Fibre made from recycled cloth towels and hemp stronger than cotton

The tensile strength of fibres created with the Ioncell method is up to 2.5 times more than that of cotton, while an Ioncell knitted fabric made from recycled hemp withstands abrasion for twice as long as normal hemp fabric.

Ioncell-kuituja kierrätysmateriaalista

Solving the systemic challenges in textile and fashion industry

We need systemic and fundamental changes in the textile and fashion industry’s business model, including a deceleration of manufacturing and the introduction of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain; decreasing clothing purchases and increasing garment lifetimes.

We need systemic and fundamental changes in the textile and fashion industry’s business model.

Latest publications:

Fluoroponytailed Brooker's merocyanines

Lukas Fliri, Gabriel Partl, Daniel Winkler, Gerhard Laus, Thomas Müller, Herwig Schottenberger, Michael Hummel 2021 DYES AND PIGMENTS

Air gap spinning of a cellulose solution in [DBNH][OAc] ionic liquid with a novel vertically arranged spinning bath to simulate a closed loop operation in the Ioncell® process

Chamseddine Guizani, Sauli Larkiala, Kaniz Moriam, Daisuke Sawada, Sherif Elsayed, Sami Rantasalo, Michael Hummel, Herbert Sixta 2021 Journal of Applied Polymer Science

Cellulose-lignin composite fibres as precursors for carbon fibres. Part 1 – Manufacturing and properties of precursor fibres

Mikaela Trogen, Nguyen Duc Le, Daisuke Sawada, Chamseddine Guizani, Tainise Vergara Lourençon, Leena Pitkänen, Herbert Sixta, Riddhi Shah, Hugh O'Neill, Mikhail Balakshin, Nolene Byrne, Michael Hummel 2021 Carbohydrate Polymers

Cellulose dissolution in aqueous NaOH–ZnO : cellulose reactivity and the role of ZnO

Saija Väisänen, Rubina Ajdary, Michael Altgen, Kaarlo Nieminen, Kavindra K. Kesari, Janne Ruokolainen, Orlando J. Rojas, Tapani Vuorinen 2021 Cellulose

Vapor-Liquid Equilibrium of Ionic Liquid 7-Methyl-1,5,7-triazabicyclo[4.4.0]dec-5-enium Acetate and Its Mixtures with Water

Zachariah Steven Baird, Petri Uusi-Kyyny, Joanna Witos, Antti H. Rantamäki, Herbert Sixta, Susanne K. Wiedmer, Ville Alopaeus 2020 Journal of Chemical and Engineering Data

The fiber-matrix interface in Ioncell cellulose fiber composites and its implications for the mechanical performance

Mindaugas Bulota, Simona Sriubaite, Anne Michud, Kaarlo Nieminen, Mark Hughes, Herbert Sixta, Michael Hummel 2020 Journal of Applied Polymer Science

Exploring Large Ductility in Cellulose Nanopaper Combining High Toughness and Strength

Feng Chen, Wenchao Xiang, Daisuke Sawada, Long Bai, Michael Hummel, Herbert Sixta, Tatiana Budtova 2020 ACS Nano

Swelling and dissolution kinetics of natural and man-made cellulose fibers in solvent power tuned ionic liquid

Feng Chen, Daisuke Sawada, Michael Hummel, Herbert Sixta, Tatiana Budtova 2020 Cellulose

Unidirectional All-Cellulose Composites from Flax via Controlled Impregnation with Ionic Liquid

Feng Chen, Daisuke Sawada, Michael Hummel, Herbert Sixta, Tatiana Budtova 2020 Polymers
More information on our research in the Research database.
Research database
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