SmartRecovery project to boost commercialisation of lignin

SmartRecovery project to boost commercialisation of lignin

Projects 28.03.2023

We are delighted to introduce the latest ExpandFibre Ecosystem project SmartRecovery, which involves lignin-focused collaboration between VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto University supported by biorefineries, technology providers and end users. The project supports Finnish industries in the shift towards more bio-based solutions by boosting lignin commercialisation, market entry of new lignin-based products and materials, as well as developing novel analysis tools for lignin. We discussed the project with Olesya Fearon from VTT who walked us through the highlights of this 2-year project.

Research Scientist Olesya Fearon continues by explaining the background for the SmartRecovery project. Current transition to a circular bioeconomy entails a shift from fossil-based to bio-based products across all industries. One key to success is converting all the fractions of wood and other lignocellulosic biomass (e.g. agricultural residues) into high value materials and products. The aromatic polymer lignin, which represents up to 30 percent of the lignocellulosic biomass, is unexploited at least from a chemical point of view. Lignin is the most abundant source of renewable aromatic compounds, and it can be used to replace materials currently prepared from fossil resources.  According to Olesya Fearon, the key outcome of this co-research project, which is to boost the commercial use of lignin in end-use applications such as coatings, resins and carbonised lignin to offer new business opportunities and enhanced use of lignin for biorefineries, technology providers and end users alike.

The project is built around five research themes. The first theme is focused on the novel kraft lignin extraction process from black liquor, where the aim is to develop a feasible and cost-competitive method to recover lignin with defined morphology from black liquor by using membrane technology.

The second theme is focused on organosolv lignin, where the aim is to understand the process parameters variation on the lignin particles formation and properties of organosolv lignin. The process will be studied for the optimal conditions from industrial point of view, while ensuring the recovered lignin keeps its reactivity. Produced kraft and organosolv lignins will be provided for application studies and comprehensive analytics within the frame of the project.

In the third theme, novel analytical methods for lignin will be studied. The objective is to gain a deep understanding on lignin structure-property performance and develop novel analytical methods to analyse lignins from different origins, such as straw and wood.

In the fourth theme, the application testing will be performed on the SmartRecovered lignins. The aim is to demonstrate the performance of recovered kraft and organosolv lignins in selected end-use applications. In the fifth theme, techno-economic and sustainability assessments are carried out. Active communication and dissemination are part of the project. The project anticipates a strengthened interaction with key academics in the biomass area through international research visits in the frame of the project.

Update 4th April 2023: Miriam Kellock is the new project manager for the SmartREcovery.

Project partners:
The consortium consists of leading research and technology companies from Finland, which are active in the research area of the project:  

VTT, Aalto University, Andritz, Fortum, Ligneasy, Metsä Fibre, PrefereResins, Prosolve.

More information: SmartRecovery LinkedIn page

The SmartRecovery research project is funded by Business Finland and the project partners.