Hemicellulose is an underutilised resource

This SNS network is finding new ways to use hemicellulose.

Text: Mats Hannerz


Diagram showing a plant cell. Illustration.

The plant cell wall. Image: Ladyofhats, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wood contains 20-30% hemicellulose, a polymer which is much smaller than the main component used in pulp production, cellulose. Hemicellulose is, to a large extent, a waste product in chemical pulp processes and is washed out along with lignin and other compounds to become fuel or other energy sources.

However, hemicellulose has properties that could mean that it would be more efficiently utilised in various other applications.

Many ways to use hemicelluloses

Purified hemicelluloses have been tested as films and gels, so far with limited success.

But, it has been shown that hemicelluloses are suitable for use as emulsions and stabilisers. The properties have great potential for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

We still need to develop the methods to extract, purify and utilise hemicelluloses.


Three existing projects involving wood hemicelluloses will be combined in the new SNS-supported project. One project in Sweden is working on oxidised wood hemicelluloses as film additives, and a project in Finland on stabilising emulsions. A project in Norway is examining wood prebiotics and will continue in the field of hemicellulose. A Swedish project is also working on the oxidation of wood xylans (a type of hemicellulose common in hardwoods).

Being brought together, the existing projects will improve understanding of hemicellulose utilisation. In the long run, the results will help to change hemicellulose from a waste product to a valuable resource.


Project name: Liberation and solution properties of wood hemicelluloses towards surface active molecules (HEMISURF)

Cooperation between: Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden), University of Helsinki (Finland), Norwegian University of Life Sciences (Norway) and CH-Bioforce (Finland).

Coordinator: Tiina Nypelö, Chalmers tiina.nypelo@chalmers.se

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