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Graanul Biotech granted building permit for SWEETWOODS plant

In Estonia, Järva municipality government has issued a building permit for the SWEETWOODS wood valorisation flagship plant to be established by OÜ Graanul Biotech, a subsidiary of AS Graanul Invest, the world's third-largest wood pellet producer. Construction work on the industrial demo plant is planned to start in Imavere in July.

Until recently non-timber hardwood biomass has been considered solely suitable for a limited number of end products, mostly cellulose pulp, ethanol or biomass. By-products like lignin and hemicellulose have been considered low-value side streams. Led by Graanul Biotech, SWEETWOODS is a new EU co-funded flagship project that aims to establish an innovative wood fractionation plant in Estonia to open up for new industrial intermediates and end-use applications.

The demonstration plant is part of the SWEETWOODS project, an EUR 43.2 million EU co-funded industry research and demonstration project led by Graanil Biotech. Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) is supporting the project with EUR 20.96 million.

One of the largest projects in Estonia, the one-of-a-kind flagship plant is to be built at Imavere. The plant will use hardwood residues as raw material and turns low-value biomass into biomaterials with innovative characteristics – high-purity lignin and wood sugars – using the US-based Sweetwater Energy Inc’s pre-treatment technology platform.

We are delighted that Imavere as the heart of Estonian wood industry is growing into a globally important centre of wood valorisation. Fifteen years ago, the story of Graanul Invest started with the first plant in Imavere, and now an innovative industrial demo plant that allows for the research and development to move to the next level in wood valorisation is in the process of being built next to that same plant said Raul Kirjanen, CEO of Graanul Invest.

The new biomaterials offer a sustainable solution for many different industries – from chemistry and food industry to cosmetics and construction materials.

The development of entrepreneurship is important for Järva rural municipality, and we are glad that new jobs are being created in the Imavere area. What’s important about the project is that it’s a test plant and research work that is sure to take Imavere to the world map once the goals are achieved, said Rait Pihelgas, Mayor Järva rural municipality government.

Moving from resource-based to knowledge-based

Järva rural municipality government supports the undertaking and, at the same time, is considering the effect the demo plant will have on the environment and the population of Imavere when introducing all the new technologies.

According to the preliminary assessment, we believe that the living environment of Imavere will in no way deteriorate due to the establishment of the flagship plant, said Pihelgas.

According to Dr Peep Pitk, Head of Research and Development at Graanul Invest group, innovative processing of wood provides the opportunity to move from a resource-based wood industry model to a knowledge-based model for developing innovative bioprocesses and novel materials.

The demo plant technology has been developed with the target to have a minimal ecological footprint and low impact on the environment, which allows dimensioning the plant size according to local conditions.

The location of Imavere precisely between two leading research centres in Estonia creates good opportunities for broad cooperation with Estonian universities in order to create a globally important wood valorisation centre of excellence in Imavere, which brings together the world’s top science of wood processing and industry practices, said Dr Pitk.

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