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Nine European companies have joined forces in the SWEETWOODS flagship project, which involves producing wood-based biomaterials for the first time on an industrial scale. These wood-based materials can be used to replace plastic in various everyday applications. The project was recently granted significant funding by the EU.
SWEETWOODS is a 43-million-euro joint pilot project that was recently granted 21 million euros in funding under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme’s Bio-Based Industries financial instrument. Horizon 2020 is the biggest research and innovation programme in the world, supporting the development and introduction of new technologies. SWEETWOODS represented the only flagship project in the bioeconomy sector. The project is implemented through collaborative efforts of nine partner companies.
“Receiving the EU funding is a major victory for all parties involved in the project and a testament to our tireless efforts. Specialists representing the European Union and bioindustries ranked the project as the best of the round of financing, giving the project full marks,” describes Peep Pitk, the R&D Manager of the Estonian Graanul Invest Group.
The SWEETWOODS project covers the entire material process: wood raw material processing, enzymatic hydrolysis of wood and further refinement of material into various end products. Breaking down the wood raw material into pure sugars and lignin makes it possible to further refine the material into high added value products that can be used to replace oil-based chemicals and plastics.
“The project is one of a kind in the bioeconomy sector, and, if successful, it can revolutionise the future of the entire global material economy. Never before has wood been used as efficiently and in such a large scale. This enables a completely new kind of sustainable growth,” states Spinverse’s Managing Director Laura Koponen, who has been in charge of project preparation.
Up to 95% of the carbon content of wood can be further refined. The objective is to implement the tested and verified technology at a full industrial scale in four years. If the project is successful, it will create new material economy value chains where wood plays a vital role.
The project features a biorefinement concept that can transform 80 tonnes of hardwood into innovative high added value products. Such products include bioplastics, insulation materials, cushions, panels, fuels and sweeteners. The list is practically endless.
“The project allows us to produce with wood what is currently made with oil. In a matter of only a few years, consumers may have access to innovative products made out of wood-based plastics, foams, and composites.” comments MetGen’s Chief Technology Officer Matti Heikkilä.
Another unique aspect of the project is that it is based on collaboration between several companies. The responsible manager of the project is the Estonian Graanul Biotech, the subsidiary of Europe’s largest wood pellet producer, Graanul Invest. The company specialises in wood processing. The Finnish MetGen’s pioneering enzyme technology plays a key role in the efficient extraction of pure biomaterials for further processing. The biomaterial is used, for example, by the German Tecnaro GmbH for biocomposites, Armacell via Ultima Gmbh for elastomeric foams, the French Global Bioenergies for biofuels and the Belgian Recticel N.V. for polyurethane foams. The Finnish Spinverse is orchestrating the project partners to achieve the promised results.
“The strength of the project lies in shared responsibility and open communication. We share a common vision, and each company has invested a great deal in the project,” Heikkilä sums up.
Spinverse’s Laura Koponen emphasises that this is not simply a technology project:
“First and foremost, our goal is to connect technology to end-users and markets. Product development and product launches are an essential part of our collaboration in the project. We rely on an uninterrupted chain from raw materials to eliciting active participation from end-users.”
Matti Heikkilä, CTO, MetGen, tel. +358 40 354 0701, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Koponen, Managing Director, Spinverse, tel. +358 40 350 0898, email@example.com
Peep Pitk, R&D Manager, Graanul Invest Group, tel. +37255604106, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Annie Spratt