Biomass conversion to high added value products – biorefinery innovation (VIDEO lecture)

July 16, 2020 | Latvian Food Bioeconomy cluster

Interreg BSR 2014.–2020. programme project “Rural RDI milieus in transition towards smart bioeconomy clusters and innovation ecosystems” (RDI2Club) was presented during the Vidzeme Innovation week in Latvia, where in a parallel session “Bioeconomy Innovations in Food Production and Gastronomy” Johannes Kisser, managing director at Alchemia-nova, presented “Biomass conversion to high added value products – biorefinery innovation”.

The guest started out by invoking the linear economy – the problems that it faces and the damage that is done on the environment and society –, while introducing the subject “Potential Innovations”. A brief insight of how a system can look like it is defined around three strategic pathways – circle economy, nature based and participatory – was shown to the participants and a short introduction to Alchemia-nova was made to give an example for the possibilities of re-designing your own company to better suit the environmental needs.

“If you want to see one step ahead and see how nature solves the problems, trees have done this for 3.8 billion years”, Kisser stressed, while discussing how a tree has the capability of applying many services, including, giving shelter and fresh air, cleaner water, while also being an innovation source. Expert invited the audience to look at a city as an ecosystem, implying that we are used to trust plants to do most of the work for us, as we prefer nature-based solutions over the technological ones. We look at plants as our superheroes, our workers. For example, plants are now used as façade structures in hotels and other public buildings, while also performing as an air treatment. Not only that, plant-based self-sufficient (mobile) unisex urinals are built, which can be seen in Vienna.

We can do much more water-cycles on a bigger scale,” Kisser implied while talking about Horizon 2020 project, which focuses on salt water being treated just by solar desalination, thus, giving a chance to recover salt, tropical fruits and sweet water. The usage of wastewater is considered a good practice example, especially on islands where the water is shipped from mainland, if there are not any natural rain-capturing systems, because the carbon stored in wastewater is the Sun energy metabolised in our system.

Kisser mentioned that there are multiple tricks on how to capture humidity by condensation, by using cold seawater, while highlighting that, as of now, it is possible to do the same scenario in buildings. By collecting the wastewater from houses, it can be used on farming setups. On a municipal level, the next step would be to use wastewater or the organic fraction from the municipal solid waste and make cosmetics, building materials for construction and other valuable resources. The idea is for the buildings to work as converters of nutrients. One of the good practice examples mentioned was a company in Spain, which provides citizens with containers and when the organic waste is produced, they extract plastics from them, thus decreasing the costs of making bio-plastics by 50%. By collecting the waste streams around the city and metabolizing them, they can become the new sources, hence being a great example of circular economy.

The development of biorefineries was looked at, to predict the close future of bioeconomy. With all of the changes in the system, everything that is now deriving from petrol will decline, whether it’s 20 or 50 years from now, so there will be a need to rely on biomass. “If you burn wood, you have a very high value material and a very low-cost application,” said Kisser, doubting that it is the cleverest way to work with biomass. On that note, bio cascading – a usage of fine chemicals without breaking apart the high-value molecules built by plants – was introduced. By using them as they are, more value is recovered. The expert reminded the participants about the importance of our surroundings while highlighting that circular bioeconomy is all about value and cooperation and providing three brief examples that his company has worked on.

Several examples on vine, olives and trees were given, proving that even branches, wax and needles have something valuable to provide for humans to convert it into much more.

The session “Bioeconomy Innovations in Food Production and Gastronomy” was organised within Interreg Baltic Sea Region programme projects “Rural RDI milieus in transition towards smart Bioeconomy Clusters and Innovation Ecosystems” (RDI2CluB), “Unlocking the Potential of Bio-based Value Chains in the Baltic Sea region” (BalticBiomass4Value), Interreg Estonia – Latvia programme project “Design and promotion of tourism product based on Livonian culinary heritage” (Livonian Culinary Route).

For more information about RDI2CluB activities in Vidzeme Planning Region, contact project manager Santa Niedola, santa.niedola@vidzeme.lv