Sweetwoods, a €43.2 million project with Sweetwater’s Sunburst™ pretreatment technology at its heart, has reached its first milestones with industrially representative samples of high purity lignin and wood sugars available at the ton scale.

The project’s leading partner Graanul Biotech has stated that the first phase construction works of the flagship were finished in 2020 and that the construction of the second phase, where hydrolysis, separation processes, and lignin drying will be established, has started. Graanul Biotech estimates that an industrial supply of novel lignin and sugars will be available the last quarter of 2022.

The Sweetwoods novel fractionation demo plant uses sustainable hardwood biomass to demonstrate, on an industrial scale, how novel pre-treatment technology in combination with innovative enzymatic solutions can provide high-quality lignin and wood sugars. This unique technology converts over 90% of hardwood into usable high-quality feedstocks for biomaterials and biochemicals and enables establishing novel bio-based value chains with a low ecological footprint.

‘The whole fractionation process still needs to be challenged within 24/7 operation at scale, but preliminary performance tests have had very promising results yielding expected high purity lignin and sugars. This means that we have created a strong basis for near term realization of supply of sustainable feedstocks for different biomaterials and biochemicals production to create industry-changing new value chains, where wood as sustainable raw material plays a vital role.” said Graanul Biotech’s R&D Manager Dr Peep Pitk.

One of the goals of the Sweetwoods project is to establish markets for lignin and sugar-based platform chemicals. The consortium partner Tecnaro, which develops and produces thermoplastic compounds, composites and blends, confirms that high-purity lignin from the Sweetwoods project can be used as a substitute for conventional lignin in biocomposite production, offering improved product quality without odor.

‘These first tests show positive results that novel high purity lignin will allow Tecnaro to enter higher value markets and gain competitive advantage through both sustainability and performance,’ said Dr Michael Schweizer from Tecnaro. The Tecnaro product family includes ARBOFORM®, which is made from 100% renewable raw materials and is biodegradable.

Sweetwoods consortium member Recticel is currently evaluating on lab scale which (depolymerized) lignin types are most suitable for incorporation in rigid foam for insulation boards. The most suitable candidates will be further upscaled and screened on a semi-industrial scale.

Another consortium partner Global Bioenergies has successfully scaled up the production of bio-isobutene from residual wood derived sugars at the ton scale. The company is also progressing very well towards the commercialization of renewable cosmetics with the first EU registration of a key cosmetic-grade ingredient derived from fermentative isobutene.

An important part of the Sweetwoods project is to evaluate the environmental and socio-economic performance of the Sweetwoods plant, feedstock, and of the developed products. The consortium member 2B has been working on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the whole wood fractionation process to calculate the environmental impact of the outputs of this process: sugar concentrates and lignin. The LCA has allowed the identification of the environmental hotspots of the fractionation process, which are useful in an eco-design perspective. The LCA results are currently being compared with other biorefining processes and products to get a numeric estimate of the environmental benefits of the Sweetwoods flagship technology.

The Sweetwoods consortium, led by Graanul Biotech, brings together innovation-oriented partners: Global Bioenergies, Tecnaro, Armacell, Recticel, MetGen, 2B Srl and Spinverse, and received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 792061.