Striving for bioeconomy innovations and breakthrough products
While there is enormous business potential in the development of the bioeconomy and circular economy, there are also many challenges. To solve these and make breakthroughs, bold, modern thinking and multidisciplinary cooperation are key. This is what we believe at the Bioinnovation Center.
The Center was established by Aalto University with the support of 10.5 million euros from the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation. One of the objectives of the Bioinnovation Center is to create innovations and breakthroughs that can be commercialised into products in the field of ecologically sustainable textiles and packaging.
‘The heart of the Center is its multidisciplinary doctoral school that involves all six Aalto schools. The disciplines of the different schools come together in research projects where the most pressing problems are solved through cross-disciplinary cooperation. We educate doctors with extensive multidisciplinary skills and capabilities to meet the demands of sustainable communities in the future,’ says Professor Michael Hummel, Director of the Bioinnovation Center.
The first five projects of the doctoral school were launched in early 2022. One student has been recruited for each of them. The first application round of the doctoral school attracted a great deal of international interest, and the Center received applications from all over the world. With the help of the gift from Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, we will establish a professorship in Sustainable Bioproducts lnnovation which is currently open for applications.
‘The operation of the Bioinnovation Center is making fast progress. It was a bold and impressive move to organise an open call in the entire university for these new research projects. We’re curious about the progress of the cross-disciplinary projects and the operation of the entire Center,’ says Hanna-Mari Peltomäki, Secretary General of the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.
Bio-based textile fibres with AI
The doctoral school’s research projects combining Aalto’s different areas of expertise in an open-minded manner aim at innovations in the field of sustainable textiles and packaging. Doctoral student Matteo Iannacchero works on the AI-Yarn project, which develops ecologically sustainable electronic textile fibres using nanocellulose, virus particles and artificial intelligence (AI).
The project implements the use of machine learning and AI in the development of biomaterials. Iannacchero, who graduated with a Master of Industrial Chemistry degree from the University of Milan, is enthusiastic about research in which different disciplines join forces to develop a completely new type of material.
‘And it’s not just about new materials, but completely new applications ranging medicine and everyday applications. The project has great potential for breakthroughs just like the entire textile sector. I can’t wait to write my first publication,’ says Iannacchero.
Origami supporting packaging design
American-German doctoral student Laureen Mahler participates in the Cellugami project, which develops ecological packaging solutions using origami folding methods. The research combines design, engineering design and mathematical modelling.
Mahler’s own background is in visual design, paper engineering and printmaking. ‘It’s wonderful to be involved in a truly cross-disciplinary project where design is used to solve today’s important problems in everyday applications. Combining Aalto’s high-quality design research with the Bioinnovation Center’s sustainability, recycling and reuse targets is vital when we work together to reduce our carbon footprint,’ she says.
The doctoral school’s research projects also develop ecologically sustainable smart packaging, sustainable coatings containing lignin, a main constituent of wood, and fabric of the future, the threads of which integrate AI sensors for human body functions.
Companies joining in
New breakthrough solutions require strong technological development work, which is why Aalto University uses donation funds also in state-of-the-art infrastructure. The Bioinnovation Center made its first significant investment in the construction of pilot equipment based on Ioncell® technology. The construction of the equipment was made possible by the support of Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation. The development of the Ioncell® method, which produces ecological textile fibre from wood and textile waste, was boosted with the help of the pilot line.
‘In the future, equipment investments will also be related to technologies developed at Aalto that promote bioinnovations and circular economy processes. The research infrastructure also supports educating next generation experts,’ Hummel says.
The second project application process of the Bioinnovation Center will start in autumn 2022. Companies are also invited to participate. In addition, the doctoral school can then take new students. In total, 10–12 students will be hired with the Foundation’s support.
‘Finland is one of the pioneers in the bioeconomy sector. Together with Finnish and international companies, we want to strengthen this position and educate visionary experts who can think in a multidisciplinary manner. These future experts can help both early stage startups and existing companies to become leading players in the manufacture of sustainable bioproducts and the circular economy,’ says Hummel.
Cutting edge doctoral education
More than 250 doctors graduate from Aalto every year. Doctoral students are supported by doctoral education services throughout their studies. The education is also continuously developed in active cooperation with the Aalto University doctoral student association, Aallonhuiput.
‘The aim is to harmonise the guidance of doctoral students using the best practices of different schools. Matters related to research ethics are integrated in the doctoral programme, and we also use data-based information in the development of the education. For multidisciplinary cooperation, we aim to establish thematic doctoral schools such as the Bioinnovation Center,’ says Kristiina Mäkelä, Provost of Aalto University.
Text: Marjukka Puolakka
Aalto University's Bioinnovation Center has chosen 5 interdisciplinary projects to launch its doctoral school in 2022. The projects aim at innovations in the fields of sustainable textiles and packaging.
Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation granted Aalto University EUR 10.5 million to establish a bioinnovation centre
The centre will accelerate the transition to a circular economy and bioeconomy, and create opportunities for sustainable economic growth in Finland.