July 9, 2020

Finnish experts part of team looking for green uses for enzymes

A river running through a forest.
Forests are a source of economic and social wellbeing for countries around the world.
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Experts from Finland, Austria and Norway have put their heads together to develop innovative and sustainable enzyme-based solutions for refining wood to high-performance materials.

The work will be carried out by scientists from VTT Research Centre of Finland, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Austria and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences as part of European ForestValue, an initiative supporting the forest sector’s transition towards a knowledge-intensive, productive, resource-efficient and resilient sector.

The scientists will use their expertise in cellulose-oxidising enzymes, biomass processing and cellulose analytics to develop green enzyme-based processes for the production of textile fibres and nanomaterials.

They will focus particularly on the oxidising capabilities of enzymes to advance enzyme-based refining of cellulosic fibres in collaboration with industrial stakeholders.

Kristiina Kuus, the coordinator of the consortium at VTT, said the project provides “a fantastic opportunity” to work together on developing fundamental knowledge and applications that generate more value from forests.

Nature’s own tools for facilitating chemical reactions, enzymes are already exploited widely in industrial processes to reduce the use of energy and dangerous chemicals. Recent studies of the enzymatic processing of forest materials have produced insights in how enzymes are capable of degrading cellulose and led to the revelation that certain enzymes are also capable of oxidising cellulose.

The revelation is significant not only because of its applications for cellulose degradation, but also because of the potential it offers for modifying cellulose for material applications and, therefore, expanding the use of cellulose beyond paper, paperboard and packaging.

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