Person in lab coat and green plastic glove handling lab-equipment. Photo.WOOD-PRO: Valorization of WOOD biorefinery PRO-ducts into novel functional hydrocolloids


Coordinator: Docent Kirsi S. Mikkonen, University of Helsinki, medicine FI

Funding: 500 000 SEK/year

Duration: 2016–2018


Policy Brief – New products from wood (PDF)



This is what we will do:

Plant polysaccharides form a chemically and functionally diverse group of biopolymers, whose applications range from structure-forming components in food, suchas starch in bread, to hydrocolloids, i.e., thickeners, gelling agents, encapsulating agents, adhesives, fat replacers, and emulsifiers in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products. The potential use of hydrocolloids depends on their safety, production costs, and technological properties.

The industries are constantly seeking new and superior alternatives to be applied in the widening markets; ideally, the hydrocolloids should be plant-based, non-allergenic, and cost-effective and bring additional functionality to the product.

The modern forestry biorefineries provide a variety of sustainable constituents that can be valorized into economic and ecological novel materials, such as hydrocolloids. Cellulose, the main component in wood, has found new, promising fields of use as a result of the advancing nanotechnology.

Nanofibrillation or controlled hydrolysis can be used to obtain cellulosic materials with a variety of different morphologies and aspect ratios. Hemicelluloses, including xylans and mannans, are the most abundant plant polysaccharides other than cellulose. They are biosynthesized in large quantities in trees, but their industrial utilization is minor in comparison with the use of cellulose.

Decreasing consumption of printing paper has created the need for new types of industrial processes utilizing all components of wood. In many current lignocellulosic refining processes, hemicelluloses are partly degraded, they are removed and burnt, or further used as feed raw material. However, methods for separation and isolation of high molar mass hemicelluloses have been developed to efficiently separate the wood components into pure fractions.

The development of biorefineries has potential to revolutionize the operation of forestry industry to manufacture new advanced products and promote economic growth. The necessary techniques for the preparation of nanocelluloses and the isolation of hemicelluloses from wood or pulp already exist, and it depends on the application potential whether their recovery is worthy of industrial investments.

In this project, we develop innovative novel applications that efficiently exploit the unique properties of wood polysaccharides. The amount of potential raw material from the forestry industry is significant and can provide new Nordic products and applications. In the proposed project, cellulose and hemicelluloses will be upgraded into hydrocolloids, emulsifiers and stabilizers in dispersed systems.

Previous data by the applicants show that nanocelluloses and hemicelluloses are highly functional in such complex matrices. LTU has previously showed that nanocellulose from vegetable sources is re-dispersible even after drying, unlike that from wood, and the project aims at finding the reason for this specific behavior.

We hypothesize that the vegetable nanofibers have different surface characteristics compared to wood based nanofibers. It is also highly interesting to study if hemicellulose and lignin could act as dispersants for wood nanocellulose in different liquid media. We aim at explaining the dispersibility of nanocellulose by studying their viscosity, transparency, and nanostructure. PFI has previously studied use of nanocelluloses as stabilizer of oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions and rheology modifiers, and also preparation of stabilized hydrogels by covalent crosslinking of cellulose nanofibrils. The influence of various additives such as salts and plant-based surfactants on system stability will be further studied in the proposed project. Latest results by UHe showed that softwood galactoglucomannan and its carboxymethyl derivative are efficient emulsifiers and stabilizers of rape seed oil in water.

The aim of this work is to establish thorough understanding of the functioning conditions and parameters enhancing or limiting the applicability of nanocelluloses and hemicelluloses as hydrocolloids. To achieve this, emulsions, gels, and emulgels will be prepared and their physical and physicochemical properties will be characterized.

This project will explore innovative ways to utilize the wood components, especially hemicelluloses that are currently largely unexploited. Furthermore, the project will open up new prospects for the food, pharmaceutics, and cosmetics industries, by gaining knowledge and understanding on the functionality and applicability of wood polysaccharides as novel, plant-based and sustainable hydrocolloids. In addition, the project has potential to promote the use of health-beneficial foods, by enabling the structure formation and stabilization of dispersions with reduced fat content and/or promoting the use of healthy, polyunsaturated lipids.

This project establishes new collaboration between the Nordic partners linking their ongoing research projects, promoting the exchange of know-how and ideas, and aiming at economic, sustainable, and functional use of our abundant natural resources: wood polysaccharides.

SNS-119 – Annual report 2017 (PDF)

SNS-119 – Annual report 2016 (PDF)

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