Finnish partnership enables biobased surfactants from industrial sidestreams in personal care
The most forested country in Europe continues to deliver innovations.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
May 26, 2023
Established in 2018, biorefinery startup Montinutra has an ambitious vision; to valorize forest industry side streams to enable the bioeconomy.
— We’re a growth company and our core team consists of five seasoned experts with decades of experience in strategy, BD, B2B, technology, and polymers. I’d say that we can be characterised as lean and mean, and fully committed, says Jaakko Pajunen, Managing Director.
— By capitalizing on the megatrend of sustainability and contributing to the lignocellulosic bioeconomy. We operate scalable technology which enables us to upcycle forest industry side streams into valuable ingredients for the cosmetics, food & beverage, and chemical industries. We offer multi-functional, active, upcycled, and circular ingredients and now, we’re searching for a development partner along the value chain.
The forest industry and its pulp milling and sawmilling play an important role in the Finnish economy. However, since the saw logs are round and the end products — timber and planks — have angular shapes, the processes generate vast amounts of side streams, such as sawdust and bark.
— These are typically incinerated for energy and heat or pelletized. But, instead of this low-value addition, we have a different approach — with a gentle process called pressurized hot water extraction (PHWE), we can separate different wood fractions into valuable bioproducts marketed under the Boreal Bioproducts brand.
One part of that brand, named SpruceSugar, consists mainly of polysaccharides and is created together with and made of existing raw material side streams from Finnish forest industry giant Metsä Group.
— Currently, Pajunen explains, we successfully run a pilot production site which is able to produce material for sampling purposes and for small commercial volumes. Challenges lie in the application development; since the world is full of application-specific and fit-for-purpose synthetic chemicals — which is often derived from fossil-based feedstock — SpruceSugar may not be a complete substitute in many cases. Gaining the most out of this unique compound requires a bit of effort in developing suitable formulations. We have now started project planning for a ’first-of-a-kind’ commercial production facility integrated into one of the biggest spruce sawmills in Finland, says Pajunen. He adds:
— Besides SpruceSugar, our Boreal Bioproducts portfolio consists of lignin-rich extract and thermally treated softwood fibres. Commercialisation of all these fractions is equally important, but their application areas can differ a lot, and we constantly seek partners for product development and finding the best product-market fit.
SpruceSugar, however, is already on the market, as part of Finnish bodycare and homecare brand Ole Hyvä’s new personal care series. The family company, established in 2005 — and whose co-founder Pekka Hännikäinen has 30 years as a Finnish pioneer of sustainable eco-detergents — is producing ecological and biodegradable detergents for both home and body.
Elli Unger, Managing Director, Ole Hyvä, what have you created?
— We’re one of the first cooperating partners of Moninutra. This SpruceSugar replaces one of three surfactants. Before, we had to import all these surfactants, but this makes our products ’more Finnish’.
What’s next for you?
— We’re also cooperating with another startup company called Origin by Ocean. They create several seaweed-based products directly from the Baltic Sea and are even able to use blue-green algae, which is harmful in the sea, in an industrial capacity. They are creating very promising products and we are planning to publish a cooperative cosmetic line based on these alginates in June.
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