Biofuels, feed for farmed salmon, and smart solutions for handling environmentally harmful mining waste. These are just a few examples of new innovations utilising bio-feedstock from Swedish forests. Residual streams from the forest industry, which in the past became waste, can create valuable materials for meeting future energy and climate challenges. The key is getting new ideas and innovations all the way to commercialisation.
In the shift from fossil-based production to an economy built on circularity and renewable resources, Swedish forests are becoming increasingly appealing. Tremendous potential exists for creating added value by using renewable raw materials from the forest for much more than pulp and classic timber products. Over the last few years, investments into research and innovation have led to new sustainable products and processes in which the focus is on utilising and increasing the value of forest resources. At the same time, limited access to risk capital and a lack of operators geared towards commercialisation have made it difficult for many products with future potential to enter the market. In the Innovation Platform Biorefinery project, RISE is working to increase the range of bio-based solutions by getting more innovations onto the market.
– “The whole point is to cultivate new and better opportunities to create value for renewable raw materials from the forest,” says Jonas Joelsson, Head of the Innovation System Team in RISE Processum, a RISE subsidiary. “We want to accelerate the transition currently underway and ensure that ideas can be realised faster.”
Leading national centre in Örnsköldsvik
The innovation platform can be considered part of a larger endeavour to establish a unique research and innovation environment where Örnsköldsvik will serve as a leading national centre for research and innovation relating to the biorefinery industry. It involves a regional partnership in which RISE drives the work forward together with operators from the business community, municipalities, regions and academia.
– “Innovation Platform Biorefinery is a textbook example of how we can create sustainable growth and regional development while also contributing to solutions for some of the greatest challenges of our time,” says Magnus Hallberg, Department Head at RISE.
The core of the business revolves around creating value from the forest through the development of new products and processes. Working closely with small and medium-sized enterprises and collaborating with incubators and science parks enables greater utilisation and speeds up the commercialisation process.
– “Much of our work involves creating new products from low-value streams, primarily in terms of by-products from the forestry industry,” says Joelsson. “It’s about skilfully making something valuable from what has been formerly been seen as problematic waste.”
It’s important that we work closely with industries to understand their needs
Research makes sludge useful
Another by-product from pulp mills that is currently problematic to deal with is green liquor dregs. Through research and innovation, RISE has contributed to the development of a method that allows the dregs to be used as a sealing layer material to cover mine waste deposits. The method involves using a mixture of till, which can be extracted close to mines, and green liquor dregs to form a sealing layer material to cover mine waste. As a result, 8,000 tonnes of green liquor dregs have been used as part of the sealing layer material at Svärtträsk mine in Västerbotten to prevent the leakage of heavy metals from the mine waste. The development of this method is a good example of how the forestry and mining industries, in collaboration with recycling companies, entrepreneurs, consultants and academia, can solve two waste problems with one innovative solution.
Fish feed from the forest industry
The starting point for many projects in Innovation Platform Biorefinery is to create new value chains and bring different industries together. Another example is the development of a new type of fish feed based on raw materials from by-products in the forestry industry. When Domsjö Fabriker manufactures cellulose pulp for the textile industry, a by-product is sulphite liquor, which can be converted into a protein and oil source for feed for farmed salmon. It provides an opportunity to replace today’s feed based on fish or soymeal, and to make production more sustainable. The project is a collaboration between researchers at RISE and operators from both the forestry and aquaculture industries. This contributes to a unique value chain where industrial forestry companies are given new outlets for their products while the fish farming industry has access to a new, sustainable source of protein.
– “To get ideas to take off and be developed into products for the market, it’s important that we work closely with industries to understand their needs. In addition to technological development, we want to bring in the business development perspective as early as possible,” says Joelsson.
Innovation Platform Biorefinery
Geared towards developing and commercialising sustainable forestry biorefinery processes and speeding up commercialisation. The project is financed by the municipalities of Sundsvall, Örnsköldsvik and Umeå, Region Västerbotten, Region Västernorrland, the EU Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund, and RISE.