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Fortum targets global bioproduct markets by refining agro and woody biomass

Finland-headed energy utility major Fortum Oyj has launched a significant development project that aims to manufacture high-value products from agro-residues and woody biomass to replace the use of fossil and other "environmentally taxing" raw materials. With EUR 14.4 million in support from Business Finland, the two-year Bio2X Programme will see Fortum and technology partners conduct research with the aim to create an industrial ecosystem in which biomass is refined through collaboration.

According to a new paper, sustainable bioenergy production in Europe could be tripled by 2050 and it is agriculture that plays a central role with the potential to become at least as important for energy as forest biomass.

According to a new paper, sustainable bioenergy production in Europe could be tripled by 2050 and it is agriculture that plays a central role with the potential to become at least as important for energy as forest biomass.

Biomass consists of three main components: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Traditionally only cellulose is utilized in high-value products but with the technologies used by Fortum, also hemicellulose and lignin can be refined to high-value products.

Yet the demand for bio-based raw materials and other materials is growing rapidly not least in the textile industry. Cellulose can be used to produce environmentally friendly textiles, hemicellulose can be used as a raw material in products like foods and cosmetics, and lignin can be used in the production of adhesives.

One of the priorities of Fortum’s strategy, updated in November, is to pursue growth in new areas where the company’s existing expertise and future technologies can be leveraged. Fortum already has significant competence with utilising biomass in district heating business and we are strongly committed also to the development of the circular economy. We are living in a world with diminishing natural resources, and we aspire to be one of the forerunners in resource efficiency. For the world’s future, biomass is a valuable raw material that can be used to produce many more products of value than today, said Risto Sormunen, Head of Fortum’s Bio2X Programme.

The project will be a part of Business Finland’s Bio and Circular Finland Programme, which is aiming to make Finland the forerunner of the circular economy. The biomass utilised in refining includes woody and agro biomass unsuitable for human food consumption such as straw.

Globally there is a large potential for refining straw as a significant share of it ends up being burnt in fields causing significant local air pollution.

We want to invest in the development of collaboration networks because it is only through collaboration that we can achieve a sufficiently quick transformation. This could mean a significant opportunity for Nordic bioeconomy’s future. Finland does have a lot of expertise, as evidenced by the number of start-up companies in the sector. It is our job to bring together this expertise and enable production growth to a commercial scale, said Project Manager Hanne Wikberg from Fortum.

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