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Not a drop wasted – AaltoCell™ fibres utilised in a new circular economy project

With funding totalling €240 000, the project aims to make more efficient use of food industry side streams.
Mikrokiteistä selluloosaa
Brown MCC could be a big hit in the animal feed industry. New use applications for white MCC are being sought in, for example, the food and textile industries. Photo: Adolfo Vera

The dilute solutions produced as side streams of the food industry contain valuable nutrients. However, the capture of these nutrients using current technologies  are not profitable; instead, they are lumped together with wastewater and their value is lost.

Now researchers from the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK) have received a €240 000 grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation for the Etsivät project, the purpose of which is to utilise side streams more efficiently. The project utilises Axolot Solutions Finland Oy's version of the technique known as electroflotation. It is based on electrolysis (the dispersion of chemical substances by using an electric current) and, unlike other similar methods, it generates no oxygen.

The nutrient capture will be enhanced by using microsize fibre grades produced with the AaltoCell™ technique developed by Professor Olli Dahl at Aalto University. These increase the amount of foam generated in the process, which enables more efficient capture of the valuable substances that need to be separated out. These cellulose fibres are completely safe and suitable for food products, and their presence does not interfere with the recovery of the valuable substances or the use of this fraction in new contexts.

Researchers believe that there are numerous uses for this new set of techniques in a society aiming towards a circular economy. For example, the dairy industry uses the same equipment for the manufacture of cream and buttermilk. When this equipment is cleaned at regular intervals, wash water is produced. Small concentrations of cream and buttermilk dissolve into this water, and these could be used in different contexts, such as for fodder, algae culture media or cosmetics products.

What if the world’s cattle munched on Finnish wood?

A new manufacturing method will open entirely new markets for microcrystalline cellulose. It could be used, for example, to enrich animal fodder.

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Stack of wood. Photographer: Eeva Suorlahti.
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