Radical ideas and prototypes contributing to a resource-wise future. The exhibitions and online lectures are open to everyone, and they belong to the official Helsinki Design Week programme.
To replace fossil raw materials with sustainable renewable resources, we need to identify new solutions which fulfill the sustainability criteria. Such a goal can be achieved by boosting the valorization rate of raw materials. Researchers in FinnCERES, are finding new ways to convert the biopolymers, building blocks of wood, into both existing commodities and novel products, making sure we benefit from all of the potentials our precious forests have to offer.
GVL: a green solvent for pulping wood
Wood pulping for the production of traditional cellulose-based products such as paper and cardboard has been around for more than a century. Further development of the pulping industry requires better resource efficiency, i.e. valorizing not only the cellulose fraction but also other wood components (hemicellulose, lignin, extractives).
GVL biorefinery introduces a sustainable alternative to current sulfur-based pulping techniques, aiming at higher efficiency in converting biomass feedstocks to existing commodities and much more.
Comprising 40 - 50% of lignocellulosic biomass, cellulose is naturally the main biorefinery product. GVL pulping sustainably produce a cellulosic pulp with quality comparable to existing rayon-grade dissolving pulp, contributing to the gradual replacement of fossil-based polyester and cotton textiles.
Advanced nanomaterials from hemicellulose
Around 15-25% of wood is made of hemicellulose. Currently, nearly all of it is burned in the pulp mill after harvesting. However, this sugar side stream can be used for a myriad of novel applications, from Xylitol sweeteners to biobarriers and even feedstock for the microbial production of bioplastics. Recently, FinnCERES researcher Zhuojun Meng discovered that in specific conditions hemicellulose formed nano-sized crystals, showing liquid crystal properties. Liquid crystals are used in LCD screens, for example. This finding could be useful in creating future bio-based electronics.
Resource-wise use of forest biomass: Case Lignin
Around 30% of wood is made out of lignin. Lignin is – in a way – the glue that binds cellulose and hemicellulose together making trees strong and rigid. Most of the lignin is burnt in the mill for energy, but the use of lignin in higher value applications is essential for a future bio-economy. In the GVL process, the lignin is sulfur-free, which opens many new avenues for higher value products.
Monika Österberg’s team at Aalto University has developed a nano lignin coating. This new coating has great potential to protect wood. It is more water repellent than many commercial coatings because it retains the natural structure of wood and its micro-scaled roughness. Since it is hydrophobic, the coating is also quite resistant to stains, while lignin’s inherent structure resists color changes from sunlight. It also does an excellent job of retaining wood’s breathability.
Designs for a Cooler Planet 2021
We get dressed each and every day: clothes protect us and help us express ourselves. We can dress better when we re-design the whole textile process from manufacturing to use to recycling.
Construction gobbles up half of the world’s natural resources. Collaboration between scientists, designers, architects, the public sector and companies generates ideas that can make living environments and the construction industry more sustainable.
We organize interdisciplinary networking events for Aalto researchers and partners. Contact us if you need more information about the people and activities in Aalto key research areas.