Designing new chemistry — finding an industrial alternative to oil

As part of its "oil-free chemistry" research call, Tekes has allocated funding to four research projects. The projects will seek to develop new methods that do not rely on fossil fuels such as oil and are, instead, particularly suited to work with renewable raw materials.

"In order to reduce our long-term reliance on oil, we need to develop completely new technologies and cost-effective solutions. Tekes would like to add to the strategic competence of Finnish research groups, the fruits of which will then be borne out in future commercial applications" explains expert in the field Erja Ämmälahti from Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation.

One aim is to create durable processes for reducing energy consumption, producing less waste, or using more recycled raw materials.

Moving towards a bioeconomy — one step at a time

In order to utilise biomasses in a cost-effective way, we need to develop completely new types of processes and synthetic pathways. One of the research missions of the Tekes-funded projects is to develop eutectic solvents (Deep Eutectic Solvents DES), which will allow, for example, wood and cellulose to be industrially processed in ways that consume less energy and produce fewer emissions than at present.

The Confederation of European Paper Industries recently organised an innovation competition for breakthrough technologies. The winner was none other than Deep Eutectic Solvents, DES, which the CEPI sees as one of the most significant areas of opportunity in the sector.

"We'd like to see the wood from the trees and be at the cutting edge of developing other business models using biomass" says Erjä Ämmälahti.

"Tekes is open to suggestions for ways in which we can increase the expertise and strategic know-how needed to more effectively make use of biomasses. Far-reaching visions and the best ideas often come from the bringing together of experts from different fields, with concepts being worked on by several different groups together."

Tekes seeks to advance the development of bioeconomic expertise in many ways – by funding projects in corporate and research-based organisations. The main theme of the Tekes' Green Growth – Towards a Sustainable Future programme is the growth of a sustainable economy and the responsible and efficient utilisation of natural resources. The funding for the oil-free chemistry research projects is part of the public funding for small strategic research openings.

Projects funded as part of the "oil-free chemistry" research funding call

Deep eutectic solvents (DESs) are a new class of ionic liquids that are based on eutectic mixtures of two or more compounds; mainly, choline chloride (ChCl) with metal halides or hydrogen bond donating species such as amides, acids, and alcohols. Project will concentrate on developing new cheap eutectic solvents and using them when developing new procedures for biomass fractionation, green surfactants, bioprecursors for bioplastics and functional coatings, deoxy sugars and other valuable products starting from simple and environmentally friendly materials, thus revolutionizing the concepts of conventional chemistry and providing innovative industrially and economically feasible solutions.

Bio-based furans as replacement chemicals for BTX derived aromatics, FURCHEM (VTT)

With depleting fossil fuels, deriving aromates from bio-based raw materials is becoming more and more interesting. However, the biggest plant biomass reserve, carbohydrates, is not optimum for processes targeting traditional BTX (benzene, toluene, xylenes) aromates and their derivatives. FURCHEM project will explore the possibility of using furans as replacement chemicals for BTX derived aromates. Also, sustainable and green synthesis methods for making furan derivatives from carbohydrates will be studied. During the project, a road-map of biomass derived furans will be composed for the Finnish chemical industry.

From carbohydrates to valuable bi- and multifunctionals, CAVA (University of Jyväskylä, Åbo Akademi)

The project aims at rational development of novel selective catalytic technologies for transformation of polyfunctional biomass derived compounds into valuable products and building blocks of industrial relevance. For this purpose, state-of-the art methods in molecular modeling, organic synthesis, heterogeneous catalysis and surface science will be combined.

Novel Catalysts for Biomass Conversion, CatBio (Aalto University, Åbo Akademi)

The target of the project is to develop catalysts for profitable commercial conversion of biomass to chemicals and fuels. The best catalysts are chosen through experimental screening for further development, scale-up and process development. A roadmap for the commercialization of processes utilizing new catalysts will be created during the two-year project. Moreover, possibilities to commercialize the catalysts production in Finland will be investigated.