Unveiling the full potential of lignocellulose – Novel Openings awarded

FinnCERES steering group decided to fund two Novel Openings for 2019-2020, announced at the Sparkling with FinnCERES event on September 20th, 2019:

  1. Simulation-assisted scattering analysis of moisture-induced swelling in wood microfibril bundles (SASAMIS)

  2. Lignocellulosic Architectures in Electrochemistry: Towards FAST and Selective Response (LA-FAST).

Novel Openings aim to lay the foundations for future biomaterials solutions and concepts. The selected projects are expected to stimulate the vitality and growth of FinnCERES beyond the currently known horizons.

The project leaders were interviewed after receiving the funding:

SASAMIS, project leaders: Paavo Penttilä, Aalto and Antti Paajanen, VTT

What spurred this study?

Since we had both studied at the University of Helsinki (Paavo had been one of Antti’s teachers), we knew of one another, but we didn’t know that we were studying the same phenomenon but using different methods. The idea for this project emerged from conversations at different conferences over the past two years: first at the ICC Conference in 2017 and again at the Spring ACS meeting. At these two conferences, we decided we needed to work together. Thanks to continued interaction at FinnCERES events, we soon decided that there is lots of potential to benefit the scientific community by combining our two analysis approaches. Then the FinnCERES call for novel openings happened at the perfect time, the call was ideal for what we wanted to do.

Why is your research important? What are the possible real-world applications?

We will provide the research and development community with a stronger basis for future studies. Specifically, a better understanding — or expand what we already know — of moisture behavior of the plant cell wall would enable more efficient utilization of biomass.

How would you like the FinnCERES industrial Co-Create members to utilize your research outcomes?

Knowing that these industry partners read our project application is already a big step, and it’s exciting to know they were interested. We are very open to getting specific questions from industry so that we can apply our combined approach to real-world challenges they are interested in pursuing.

LA-FAST, project leaders: Jari Koskinen, Aalto and Katri Kontturi, VTT

What spurred this study?

Discussions with Aalto’s Olli Ikkala about 2 to 3 years ago revealed that the further development of co-polymer permselective films is very difficult. However, he suggested that we can use nanocellulose, which can be mixed with carbon nanomaterials and modified with varioius functional groups for sensing applications. So here, we’ve put together experimental characterization data combined with machine learning to create a new thin-film hybrid membrane with particular application potential: sensing biomolecules with particular electrochemical properties. This would be highly beneficial in the healthcare industry, for example, opioid detection in the blood. Lignocellulose-based architectures hybridized with carbon nanomaterials can act as permselective membranes for fast, selective and sensitive electrochemical detection. Our initial studies indicate we’re on the right track here.

How do you envision the FinnCERES industrial Co-Create partners can benefit from the outcome of your project?

Ideally, we would like to deepen the relationships with our Co-Create members. For example, by visiting their work sites and talking directly with people in R&D in those companies. Through interaction, we can bring our research expertise closer to their specific challenges.We need further forums to meet so that ideas can emerge, later to be built on to become real connections and hands-on projects to tackle together. Our young doctoral students and professors, particularly, need to meet relevant people in industry to help Finland (and Aalto).

Why cellulose?

First of all, cellulose has great potential as a functional material for electrochemical sensors but it is also relevant to so many Finnish industries. Cellulose is relevant to so many Finnish industries, so it is strategically important for this country to know how far we can solve global challenges together and inspire or work together to discover what potential this material has to offer.

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