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Researchers in Finland make material strides

VTT researchers can enable the use of biomass in long-lasting or recyclable products like plastic pipes or packaging.

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VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is leveraging synthetic biology and liquefaction to develop bio-based fuels and materials.

Scientists at VTT have developed a method that integrates synthetic biology with advanced computational and machine-learning techniques to accelerate the development of precision biomaterials.

The “transformational” method promises to curtail the development timeline for tailored biomaterials from years to months – if not minutes.

“We have managed to fine-tune and dramatically speed up the design process of new protein-based materials, allowing for the rapid development of biomaterials with tailored functionalities, achieving what used to take years in just months, with the potential to further reduce this time to minutes,” stated Pezhman Mohammadi, senior scientist at VTT.

The scientists achieved the breakthrough by utilising algorithms to sift through thousands of protein structures to identify the most promising candidates for laboratory synthesis.

They believe materials developed with the method have the potential to replace fossil-based materials and deliver game-changing properties for high-demand applications, such as medicinal injectables and smart materials.

“Synthetic biology enables the production of complicated structures present in nature,” added Mohammadi. “Through this approach, we are not only replicating the extraordinary materials of natural materials but also enhancing them to meet specific functional needs, going one step beyond […] evolution.”

The method reduces the material development timeline from years to mere minutes, promising rapid advancements in medical and industrial applications.

VTT

The study was published in Advanced Materials in May. The multidisciplinary research team was made up of scientists not only from VTT, but also from Aalto University, Nanyang Technological University, Temple University and the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Transport fuels from biomass residues

In June, VTT reported that it is part of a large international consortium that has set out to establish economically feasible and sustainable value chains for turning forest and agricultural biomass residues into aviation and marine fuels, as well as chemical products.

The value chains will all be based on catalytic upgrading and liquefaction technologies, such as fast pyrolysis and hydrothermal liquefaction.

For example, the consortium will investigate the feasibility of biochar in activated carbon production, off-gas use in hydrogen production, and various electrochemical and catalytical methods in wastewater treatment and valorisation. The bio-oil intermediates produced in the process, in turn, will be refined with catalytic technologies into transport fuels and petrochemistry feedstock with the aim of replacing fossil feedstock.

“Unlocking the route from bio-based waste streams towards cracker feeds could enable the use of biomass in long-lasting or recyclable products like plastic pipes or packaging [while] keeping the harvested carbon captured in plastic materials,” said Ismo Savallampi, manager of sustainable feedstock projects at Borealis Polymers.

Borealis is part of a group of industrial partners that also includes Boreal BioproductsNeste and Valmet. Along with VTT, the other academic partners are LUT UniversityTampere University and Åbo Akademi University.

The two-and-a-half-year project has been granted 3.5 million euros in funding by Business Finland.

By: Aleksi Teivainen
12.06.2024