We need to think in a more circular way and use our resources better. Lisbeth Olsson, project leader, is sure that BioBUF during the project time of five years will contribute to a sustainable future. And that whether or not BioBUF’s concept will be commercially viable.
-Regardless of the result we will contribute with increased knowledge concerning different biobased concepts and what they can accomplish. We will put the research and the outcomes in a larger perspective, and that will be of great benefit for the society.
The concept developed in the BioBUF project is about using domestic biomass, such as residues from forestry, i.e. branches and tops (or GROT), and microalgae, as raw material to produce fine and bulk chemicals. The seemingly odd combination of forestry residues and microalgae has to do with the possibility to get the project economically viable. The plan is to extract, from the microalgae, bioactive components that have a much higher economic value than bulk chemicals, such as adipic acid – a precursor chemical to production of nylon, created from the fermentation of GROT.
Chalmers has a considerable expertise in forest biomass, as well as in fermentation and anaerobic digestion. Already before the FORMAS’ call for funding proposals within the field of bioeconomy, thoughts of how the different research fields could be joint existed.
-The trends towards working this direction existed in the scientific community since long. We who, among other things, had long experience of bioethanol started to think about which steps that could be joint to a whole process, and where we needed to increase our collaboration. The application to FORMAS was therefore the result of long-term strategic work. We had both the ideas and existing collaborations before the call.
This, believes Lisbeth Olsson, played an important part in getting funding for the BioBUF project. Another important factor, she thinks, is that the project links specific technology research with system research.
– We look at the big picture. We assess the environmental consequences of building a biorefinery according to the BioBUF concept, and compare it with the environmental impact from alternative pathways. It is also important to consider the ecological impact when biomass is removed from the forest.
The interest in the area of microalgae is large, but there are also challenges relating to sustainability issues. Algae requires much light and at our latitude, the energy consumption will be a key issue. But the development right now is fast, and knowledge increases in which species that is best adapted for cultivation in our Nordic conditions.
It is the knowledge, in algae and in other subjects, which is generated in the project that Lisbeth Olsson sees as one of the main gains from the project.
-We develop a concept that should be sustainable in the long term, and here we have large help from our reference group with industry expertise. They can give us the key to their industrial needs. What do they believe in, and what weak links do they identify? The result I wish for, when this project ends, is that we have defined all process steps, that all biotechnical questions are solved and that we have created many collaborations and found stakeholders that can move the concept to commercialization.
But even if the project does not reach this far it will still contribute to a sustainable future, which is a benefit for the society. And the key to real sustainability, according to Lisbeth Olsson, is the collaboration between different industrial sectors.
–The industry is interested, but they don’t really know how since they don’t have a long tradition of collaborating. I think it is necessary that the forest and chemical industry must start to work together, but maybe also the marine industry. The whole area requires collaboration and development of a new and common view. Here we can contribute with a rethink and thereby play an important role in this development.
A large part of the first project year, Lisbeth Olsson and here colleagues spent on inter-disciplinary questions. To define and identify the research needs and where additional knowledge exchanges are needed.
– The risk with a large project with a broad research scope is that there are small project clouds that never create larger unity unless you seriously work for an interdisciplinary work process. In addition, many of today’s societal challenges will also require a new way of working.
Lisbeth Olsson therefore another important role for the project that has nothing to do with supplying the society with adipic acid or some other chemical, but it instead to educate the next generation’s interdisciplinary researcher.