Sawdust instead of Petroleum

Project at the Institute of Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, to receive grant of 630,000 euros from the Waldklimafonds

No 031/2019 from Feb 05, 2019

A project at the Institute of Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, has been granted 630,000 euros from the Waldklimafonds. The aim of the ChemSnep project is to investigate recycling possibilities for sawmill by-products from hardwood and softwood. The project leaders are two microbiologists, Dr. Jens Baumgardt and Rupert Mutzel. According to the scientists, utilization of the so-called lignocellulose contained in sawmill by-products could gradually replace the petroleum-based process. The project will run until December 2021.

The lignocellulose contained in sawmill by-products consists of lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose, and is said to produce a variety of economically viable components in microbial degradation processes, for example, C5/C6 sugars, alcohols, and phenols. The scientists say that a successful transformation of the three components to energy or material products could enable a decoupling of fossil fuels such as oil.

Due to the carbon-neutral production of chemicals and the use of the forest for carbon storage, the process has an ecological added value. "The use of innovative ’by-products’ and reforestation driven by increased demand also has economic benefits because it contributes to the move toward independence from the price of crude oil and from oil-exporting countries," says Dr. Jens Baumgardt. "The microorganisms and fermentation processes were selected in cooperation with industrial partners in such a way that later sustainable, uncomplicated, and cost-efficient utilization in wood processing companies should be possible," stresses Rupert Mutzel.

Switching from a fossil base to a renewable raw material base is particularly suitable for carbon sources that are available in large quantities and if their use does not compete with food production. The latter excludes the use of edible agricultural products and coincides well with using native deciduous wood and softwoods and the lignocellulose contained in them.