The Swedish Government will allocate ten million SEK to KTH for a feasibility study on Formax, a collaboration between industry and academia that will generate forest-based products that fit into a bio-based economy. The purpose is to achieve both the Government’s vision for a carbon-free society by 2050 and maintain Sweden’s unique position with a competitive forest-based industry.
Christoph Quitmann, Director at MAX IV Laboratory, gives his views on the initiative.
– I am thrilled by this development. The fact that the main players in one of Sweden’s most important industrial sector join forces and team up with the country’s largest research infrastructure is fantastic. By using x-rays MAX IV can make the invisible visible. This opens unique opportunities to study raw materials, optimize processes, and develop new products. The perspective to apply the most advanced tools in science to questions of real societal relevance is really exciting.
Swedish forest industry and forest research are making continuous progress, which gives Sweden the opportunity to become an even more knowledge-based industrial nation which develops and manufactures the most advanced materials.
The examples are many. KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Chalmers University of Technology, two of the universities that together with the MAX IV Laboratory in Lund participate in this venture, has published a number of exciting research results during the last few years. Among them are transparent wood that can be used both as windows, solar cells and panels on the house.
Previously, the same group of researchers, working at the Wallenberg Wood Science Center at KTH, presented a paper material strong as steel. Researchers at KTH have also exhibited a three-dimensional battery based on cellulose from trees that can withstand bumps and knocks.
Thus, it is entirely logical that KTH, Chalmers and MAX IV Laboratory together with the Swedish forestry industry are key players in this effort. As a first step in this direction the government appoints KTH to lead, during 2016-2018, a pilot study designed to develop the research and innovation environment ForMAX at the national synchrotron facility MAX IV in Lund.
ForMAX is to become a tool customized to address research issues surrounding bio-composites, nano-cellulose and dissolving wood pulp process. With a tailored combination of experimental techniques unique opportunities are given for advanced material characterization and to follow complex processes in real time. ForMAX will also serve as a portal to make available other instruments and measurement techniques at MAX IV, all of which can be beneficial for research on bio-based materials.
– Research on wood as a material resource is an area where KTH has presented unique research results. The national initiative opens up for a sustainable future with new environmentally friendly materials. Our close cooperation with the forest industry will grow even stronger. The initiative involves large and new opportunities to develop the forest as a cornerstone in the Swedish economy, says Peter Gudmundsson, Vice-Chancellor of KTH.
In the future, it is thought that the building blocks of tree is to be the primary component for large-scale production of green lightweight materials used in e.g. packaging, houses and vehicles. More concrete examples of possible future applications based on the Swedish excellence around the cellulose includes 3D printers, textile, sanitary and electronics, insulation, filters and self-healing and cleansing medical materials of various kinds.
The research that are being published today shows that the building blocks of tree can be used for materials for both energy production, energy storage, water treatment and medical applications.
– What the forest, paper and packaging industry is doing here could be a role model for other sectors of Swedish industry. MAX IV welcomes such industrial research, says Christoph Quitmann.
The goal is to build a research infrastructure platform at MAX IV Laboratory that will contribute the development of the future forest industry with respect to knowledge, competence and competitiveness. Specifically, the goal is to build the dedicated beamline ForMAX for process development and materials characterisation as well as to set-up of a portal to all other beamlines at MAX IV Laboratory.
The forest industry has been a cornerstone in Swedish economy during the last century and it is a direct and indirect employer in all parts of the country. Presently the global competition regarding packaging paper grades and a general decline in demand for printing paper grades constitutes a significant challenge. This challenge is addressed through several dedicated research and development efforts aimed at new and improved products from Swedish forest resources, which involve universities, research institutes and industrial companies. The on-going research efforts can roughly be divided into the following areas:
- Pulp – the process and product
- Paper – the process and products ranging from tissue to packaging paper
- Energy – fuels specifically
- Platform chemicals – replacing other sources
- New biobased materials – replacement of other materials or new materials
On-going research and development efforts deals with scientific and technical challenges related to these areas and achieved results can be found along the whole range of Technology Readiness Levels with varying times to implementation. However, all areas are in principle closely related, and success of new products will in most cases be supported by being a part of competitive so-called biorefinery concepts, where forest raw material is transformed to a set of products based on different process streams present in the pulp- and papermaking process. Thus it is commonly accepted that the pulp- and papermaking business will be a cornerstone also for new products.
Given the scale of the industry today and the volumes produced, small improvements in efficiency will be important as will new disruptive technologies. A specific focus of present research efforts is the development of new material concepts that can compete with synthetic and mineral materials (advanced and bulk), as well as have the prospect of providing materials with new functionality. An increasing number of scientific results are presently being published, which show opportunities for advanced bio-based materials and products. Examples of possible applications that are discussed are: 3D-printing, textiles, transportation, personal care products, electronics products, smart windows panes, insulation materials, filter materials, self-repairing/cleansing and medical materials.
There is also an obvious room for improvement when it comes to how research and development projects related to the forest industry is being performed today, specifically on the on the industrial side but also within academia. If the industrial companies within the forest industry are compared to the major suppliers of synthetic polymeric materials (DOW, BASF and DuPont), it can be noted that the latter have competences and perform activities closely matching what is performed within academic research. As a result, they are able to integrate their own efforts with fundamental research to in order to (i) be able to recognize promising scientific results at an early stage and (ii) to perform the necessary product and process development. The research on bulk materials and advanced materials based on synthetic polymers is also generally performed using advanced characterisation techniques based on synchrotron light to a much larger extent compared to research performed related to materials based on forest resources.
Aim – business case
This project is undertaken as a means of supporting the development of the future Swedish (Nordic) forest industry with respect to new knowledge (scientific and technical results), competence (skilled individuals) and competitiveness (compared to other research and development efforts performed within other industry). ForMAX will contribute to research and development efforts within all the identified research areas, and thus contribute to improve the existing pulp and paper industry as well as to create new value chains. Furthermore, the project will contribute to strengthen the forest industry as a knowledge-based industry, and to attract the best students, undergraduate and graduate, and researchers.