25. Mar 2021
Four companies have collaborated on a project to develop the first process in the world to produce compostable bioplastic from food and feed production side streams.
Finnfoam, Brightplus, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Nordic Soya spent the past four years exploring together the possibilities of soy molasses, a soy processing side stream, as a raw material of the future in a research project that was partly funded by Business Finland. To date, soy molasses, which is not suitable for food, has been mainly disposed of by incineration.
"The process in which bioplastic production will be piloted on an industrial scale that developed as an outcome of this cooperation project is the first in the world to produce an ecological lactic acid polymer from the side streams of soy production. This way we can offer a sustainable alternative to sugar and corn based polylactic acid,” said Henri Nieminen, CEO of Finnfoam.
Nordic Soya Oy, the largest full scale, multi-stage soy processing plant in Europe, processes soy grown in Europe at its Uusikaupunki plant. It provided the soy molasses used as the raw material in the research.
This Finnish innovation combines synthetic biology, chemistry and material technology in a completely new way.
"This project is both an excellent example of what expertise in industrial biotechnology can achieve and a triumph in converting a challenging industrial residue into a higher value product using microbes. This endeavour required significant efforts in technology at various stages of the process. It particularly made use of VTT's expertise in synthetic biology, the modification of microbes and optimisation of bioprocesses,” said Tiina Nakari-Setälä, Vice President, Strategy and Business Intelligence at VTT.
Bioplastic produced from the residues of soy processing has huge potential as a scalable export product in circular economy. Globally, residues from soy production could produce around 22 million tonnes of bioplastic per year.
Family-owned Finnfoam intends to use the new bioplastic in the production of thermal insulation for buildings. Its ecological quality is enhanced by the fact that thermal insulation also serves as a carbon sink, thus helping to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.
For the purpose of piloting new biomaterial innovations, the companies are launching a pilot plant project in Uusikaupunki. The pilot plant will be built during 2021-2022 and go into operation at the end of 2023.
"When completed, the pilot plant will significantly support Finland's sustainable development ecosystem and creation of future jobs," said Nakari-Setälä of VTT.
At the beginning of 2021, Finnfoam Oy was split into two companies. The new FF-Future will focus on future solutions. The pilot plant project is FF-Future's first major investment.
"Finland has a huge potential to become a pioneer in biomaterials, but this requires resources for testing the scalability of the production process. We want to build concrete resources for the national ecosystem in the industry, and we are looking for partners who are interested in building the production of Finnish biomaterials and commercialising it for the global markets,” said Henri Nieminen.
Brightplus Oy, responsible for coordinating the project, produces new green chemistry innovations together with its partners that can be tested at the pilot plant.
"It is a major technological step forward that side streams that are unusable in food production can now be used to produce responsible high value bio-based products," says Jarkko Leivo, Technology Director of Brightplus Oy. “Depending on the application, we can modify the properties of the biomaterial, such as its transparency and thermoformability, or improve its chemical resistance and reusability. We are now looking for pioneer-minded partners interested in this great technology with whom we can develop more innovative applications for this biopolymer.”