How material scarcity takes us towards a cleaner world

In the future, there will be a time of abundant renewable energy with reasonable or even low production costs. Looking at the past solar and wind production cost development and the current increasingly strong focus on hydrogen development, the path towards renewable energy is clear albeit rocky at times. The next step towards a cleaner world is to set the target on materials.

Photo: Chempolis

While there will be an abundance of renewable energy available, the resources used in materials will be increasingly scarce. The existing materials on the market need to be circulated to the extent it is possible. In addition, the materials loop must be progressively complemented by materials from renewable resources, namely biomass. This means moving from using biomass for energy production to using it for materials. It should be done as resource-efficient as possible since processing biomass into materials and recycling requires a lot of energy.

Getting ready in an uncertain environment

The drivers of today's bioeconomy are sustainability and a significantly higher degree of processing of not just wood, but a wide range of various other biomass. The bioeconomy has an important role in the journey towards carbon neutrality, reducing the use of non-renewable resources and maintaining global biodiversity.

However, policies, regulations and markets are not yet optimal for it. Despite that, there is an urgency to act now because the world does not wait. An active approach ensures that when the market and policy environment will one day support this paradigm shift, the bioeconomy is running at full speed. Bio2X is being developed to answer the needs of this new bio-based world.

The foundation for Bio2X has been laid

Bio2X is a development programme that aims to bring to market products made from biomass, especially straw, that can replace environmentally harmful materials in a number of applications. It is built on three key pillars:

  1. Materials will be treated as resource-scarce and renewable energy abundant
  2. Sustainable materials will require more biomass resources in the future than they do today. Agri biomass will double the available biomass globally and the related employment in rural areas has a high impact on social responsibility.
  3. Straw-based fibres are the key to the success of the Bio2X concept, as well as using all the fractions from straw – cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin – for high-value products

Several building blocks to execute the programme are already in place.

Well-founded R&D and technology are essential

Bio2X has carried out extensive R&D work with several partners and in the Business Finland development programmes. They have ranged from the Best SHOK programme during 2013-2016 and the ForBest programme, focusing on fractionation technologies, in 2018-2020, to the current ExpandFibre programme that is running from 2020 to 2024 in partnership with several companies and research institutes. It covers all the fractions and aims to replace several non-renewable, fossil and other unsustainable raw materials.

In addition, Bio2X has invested in the technology companies Chempolis and Infinited Fiber Company. Chempolis has developed a sustainable biorefining technology that can use agricultural waste as raw material and process it into high-value products with great material efficiency. Infinited Fiber, in turn, can use recycled textiles and also straw-based fibres as raw materials to produce textile fibres.

Steps towards bio-based materials

The first biorefinery that will use the Chempolis fractionation technology is under construction in India by Assam Biorefinery Private Limited (ABRPL). It is a joint venture where both Fortum and Chempolis are minority shareholders. The main products of the biorefinery will be bioethanol, furfural and acetic acid. The raw material is bamboo, fast-growing grass that will be sustainably sourced from farmers in the surrounding area. India has ambitious bioethanol targets, which is a key driver for the investment. At the same time, it provides a way to prove the concept for future Bio2X biorefineries. The biorefinery is expected to start operation in 2022.

Another ongoing project is a biorefinery development in Germany that aims to produce high-value products from all main biomass fractions of straw. The focus is on building an optimal product portfolio with several partners, customers and project development, as well as developing a reliable straw supply. The plan is to develop the project as a joint venture and bring along investors who have a strong focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics.

The first straw-based products, namely textile fibres made from cellulose, were introduced in 2019. In 2021, a whole straw-based fashion collection was developed for a global fashion show. While they have spearheaded the development, Bio2X is currently focusing on developing other fractions as well.

The market and demand for increasingly sustainable raw materials is there. Straw, being agricultural residue, can be used without compromising land use or food production. It is a unique biomass source that Bio2X, the global biorefinery pioneer in this field, is tapping into together with partners, customers and investors.

Heli Antila
VP, Biobased Solutions, Fortum


High-value products from biomass

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