|A longread about the ASSEMBLY vision…
The aim of the ASSEMBLY project is to develop sustainable high-performance fibres and composites. The industrial goals are a) to utilize side-streams from potato starch factories, beet sugar producers and cereal mills to generate material building blocks using enzyme-mediated processes, b) to spin fibres with nanocellulose as the major component, c) to construct composites and chimeric materials with nanocellulose.
The project is essentially a biorefinery project. As such the value proposition varies along the biorefinery pipeline:
1) Agroindustrial “waste” utilization.
Nordic Sugar (partner), KMC and Lantmännen (advisory board), and Carlsberg (partner) are active at the beginning of the biorefinery pipeline. They are raw materials providers and material similar to theirs may be purchased at the open market, e.g. for animal feed. The research activity regards adding value to their raw materials aimed for biocomposites. A better price, probably not dramatically better due to fierce competition, is one aspect of the incentive. Positioning themselves as preferred suppliers of raw materials ideally suited to biocomposites is their main motive. DTU (partner) has many years of experience in developing biorefinery technology. Nordic sugar, KMC, Carlsberg and Lantmännen are major international players in their respective areas of sugar beet, starch potatoes and cereals. They process large volumes of biomass and have been research active in side stream utilization for many years.
2) Preparing nanocellulose and other materials for composite construction.
Value of the material is increased very substantially as it processed to become nanocellulose and other building components. The technology comprises environmentally friendly enzyme mediated processes and Novozymes (partner) plays a key role. Cellucomp (Scottish SME and partner), KTH (Swedish partner), DTU, KU and Carlsberg (Danish partners) all contribute to this phase of work in ASSEMBLY. Novozymes can draw upon some of its experience from second generation biofuel technology and the ASSEMBLY project benefits from the price reductions on enzymes resulting from Novozymes' biofuel research efforts. The incentive for Novozymes does not regard better prices but positioning themselves as preferred enzyme providers to the nascent biocomposite field.Cellucomp's ambition is to prepare nanocellulose of higher purity, ideally to the point of being able to produce alignable microfibrils. Every step along this way will broaden the range of applications they can pursue and eventually allow them to move into truly high performance applications.
3) Construct composites and chimeric materials
Carlsberg brought a material made from secondary cell walls into the project and this material is backed by two patent applications. The material strength is very high at this stage of development and with a little further development by the ASSEMBLY consortium may render this material useful for making containers for beer or soft drinks.
University of Strathclyde has developed technology for fibre spinning. This is regarded the most ambitious and risky goal set forth in the ASSEMBLY project. Progress in nanocellulose production technology coming out of (2) will create value every step of the way whereas spinning requires that we arrive at aligned microfibrils. Novozymes, DTU and KU contribute enzymes, enzyme technology and reverse engineering strategies whereas Cellucomp provides raw materials and processing technology. Cellucomp will begin developing composites to compete with carbon fibre composites for high-end uses if we are successful in this task.
Materials to be developed with Fibervisions (industrial partner, large enterprise) and a partner yet to be identified rely on making the nanocellulose interact favourably with a matrix for fibre extrusion or 3D printing respectively. KTH, Carlsberg, DTU and KU are involved in surface modification using enzymes from Novozymes. For Fibervisions success is largely a matter of price: If a new partly green fibre can be produced at a modest margin, then there is a market, which will be new to Fibervisions. 3D printing could target the medical implant market so in this case material cost is not the critical issue. Biomechanical performance and biocompatibility are key parameters. New materials coming out of the ASSEMBLY project could exploit opportunities for making biomimetic surfaces and thus take biocompatibility to a new level.