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Substantial EU funding for Finnish custom-made enzymes that create value from pulp production side streams

Jan 25, 2019 12:29:04 PM


Finnish biotech company MetGen has received €500,000 of EU funding for a research project focusing on the efficient and sustainable extracting of lignin and hemicelluloses from the cellulose production process and using them as bio-based resources in different industries.

WoodZymes is a large EU-funded Horizon 2020 project that aims to find out how lignin and hemicelluloses could be extracted more efficiently from the cellulose making process and, in particular, how these fractions could be turned into valuable resources for different industries.

The tailor-made enzymes of the Finnish biotech company MetGen play a central role in this innovative project.

Tailor-made enzymes in six months

”Our service is unique and based on a solid knowledge of genetics. The strength of our technology platform is that we can deliver an industrial enzyme with new-to-the-world characteristics from an idea to large-scale supply in as short time as six months.” says MetGen’s CTO Matti Heikkilä.

”In WoodZymes, our enzymes are used as a catalyst that helps extract more lignin and hemicelluloses from the cellulose making process, while reducing the environmental burden of the process,” he says.

Creating value from former process waste

Lignin and hemicelluloses can be used as building blocks for making bioequivalents for a number of hazardous or toxic substances. Lignin, for instance, is a nature-made glue that can be used to replace formaldehyde. The WoodZymes project studies how lignin could be used in the construction industry for making fiber boards and polyurethane for insulations.

”Our enzymes and licensable technologies allow for full valorization of soluble lignin. We have created technologies to fractionate lignin to specific sizes and also control its characteristics to match the customer specific need”, Heikkilä says.

Hemicelluloses are sugars that can be used, for instance, as an additive in the paper industry. The current production process fails to extract hemicellulose at all, but Heikkilä estimates that with the MetGen enzyme, the yield could reach up to 60–70 %.

”The most important aspect of the project is that we can create value from biomass that has previously been considered process waste. We can significantly improve and boost the effectiveness and processes of existing production facilities without making sizeable investments,” he summarizes.

The Finnish EU funding star

All in all, WoodZymes has received €3.25 million of EU funding, of which MetGen’s slice is €500,000. Spinverse supported MetGen in the application process. The companies have a long and successful history of cooperation.

“We’ve made four EU funding applications together with Spinverse with a full 100 % hit rate. Altogether, the funding we’ve received for these projects amounts to €12 million,” Heikkilä says.

“Collaboration in the spirit of open innovation allows a company to play a much larger role in the industry than its size might let you believe. In this sense, as a company we’re like the enzymes we design: small but very powerful catalyst to speed up the reactions in the surrounding environment.”

MetGen’s tailor-made enzymes have a massive potential in different industries and their applications are studied fiercely. In Finland, MetGen is one of the TOP 10 recipients of EU funding and the only commercial entity among universities and research institutes.

For further information, please contact:

Matti Heikkilä, MetGen
Antti Koistinen, Spinverse

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