Special materials from renewable sources
VTT is among the world's leading developers of biotechnologies. One of its specialised research areas is the harvesting of sugars from plant-based biomass for the production of biofuels and standard chemicals. The research objectives relate to the efficient production of special materials - bioethanol, biochemicals and bioplastics.
The sidestreams of agriculture and forest industry involve large volumes of sugars which are suitable for use in biotechnical fermentation processes. However, this raw material mainly consists of lignocellulose. The microbes which are used in chemical biotechnical processing cannot utilise untreated lignocellulosic compounds. Using its cross-disciplinary expertise, VTT is working to harness microbes, yeasts and moulds to degrade cellulose into a suitable form for the fermentation process and to produce the desired compounds.
VTT is currently coordinating an extensive international project entitled NEMO to develop enzymes which can degrade lignocellulose into fermentable sugars. In addition, the project will focus on engineering microbial metabolism to facilitate the economical, efficient, high-volume production of ethanol from sugars. The suitability of enzymes and yeast cultures for the industrial manufacture of biofuels will also be tested as part of the project.
VTT develops biorefinery concepts for public ventures in Finland and abroad as well as for private businesses. Its recent ventures include the joint research project with the American Mascoma Corporation. Launched in 2007, the project focuses on biofuel manufacture. Mascoma is developing a new process for ethanol production using a yeast that can effectively produce the enzymes which degrade the plant material into sugars and the end product ethanol. Even with partial success, this technology would offer significant benefits by reducing the number of process stages.