Biofuel, bioplastic and nanocellulose

Biofuel put into a car.

Case - Published 4.7.2014

Just like any other organic material, wood can also be used to make oil. Wood-based bio-oil can be substituted for fossil fuels in a number of applications. In the future, bio-oil could be used as vehicle oil or as raw material for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

There are nearly one billion cars in the world, and they all need fuel. Fossil fuels and their usage create emissions which accelerate climate change. One alternative to fossil oil is biomass energy, which is produced in plant photosynthesis. We already know how to manufacture biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol from food crops. In autumn 2012, the United Nations proposed that the production of these first generation biofuels be reduced, as arable land is needed for food production.

In Finland, a number of biorefinery construction projects are currently under way. For example, UPM is starting the production of wood-based renewable diesel from raw pine oil, a by-product of the pulp industry. These types of forestry by-products are called second generation biofuels, as the raw material production does not compete with food production. Once wood-based biodiesel refineries are built in conjunction with pulp factories, the wood used in pulp production can be utilised even more efficiently.

In the future, bio-oil can be used to manufacture all products which are currently based on fossil fuel drilled from the depths of the earth. According to scientists and industry representatives, products such as bioplastics will be in industrial production before 2020. The pen provided as a sample in this portfolio is manufactured from plastic which is made from oil derived from eucalyptus trees.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto University have developed wood-based plastic-like materials from nanocellulose. Nanocellulose can be used to make products such as light sheets as thin as a sheet of paper but as strong as metal. Nanometre is one-billionth of a metre or one-millionth of a millimetre. The special properties of nanocellulose are based on wood fibres which are cut to nano size. In a mass which is composed of extremely small particles, the total area of the particles is proportionately very large. This makes the mass highly reactive; in other words, the bonds between the nanofibrils are extremely strong. Although nanocellulose is not yet manufactured on an industrial scale, visions for its future applications include even cars and aeroplanes.

It is not difficult to imagine what kinds of possibilities these new innovative bio-based materials can offer as fossil fuel resources continue to be depleted and perhaps, when they run out completely.

Text and photos are from the info cards in the presentation briefcase on the Finnish forest sector. The idea of a briefcase with various kinds of samples to present this diverse sector came from the young people themselves. The briefcase has been handed out at visits to upper secondary schools.

More information on the briefcase and visits: vilma.issakainen(@) and anne.kettunen(@)


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