An innovative Doctoral project of chemical and biotechnological valorisation of wood will start with collaboration of the University of Tartu and Graanul Invest

In the course of first-time initiative a platform will be created for training top specialists meeting the needs and profile of the company and cooperation in the field of applied studies and product development through collaboration of the University of Tartu and Graanul Biotech, which belongs into Graanul Invest Group. According to the cooperation agreement, a PhD student at the University of Tartu will start to investigate the properties of lignin-derived from wood in their doctoral thesis and collaborate with Graanul Biotech for the development of final product.

According to the words of the Vice Rector of Research of the University of Tartu Kristjan Vassil, contemporary wood chemistry and biological processing enables to process local biological resources into final products with high added value, but it has not yet used much in Estonia. „Here, the university wants to use their research competency for helping the companies, while we also expect strong support from the state for developing Estonian wood chemistry and biological processing,“ said Vassil. While in technical processing of wood certain capacity has been already achieved in Estonia – we are a major exporter of wooden houses in Europe –, in the opinion of Vassil, wood chemistry and biological processing are good examples of a possibility for moving towards an economic model with higher added value.

The Doctoral project will be completed in the Laboratory of Wood and Biological Processing based on the Institute of Technology and Institute of Chemistry of the University of Tartu and the Estonian Centre for Synthetic Biology. The laboratory is focused mainly on the technology for chemical and biotechnological upgrading of wood and biomass, and optimization of industrial processes.

Graanul Biotech OÜ is constructing a unique flagship plant for wood fractioning into elementary particles, a main product of which is hydrolysis lignin. Such lignin has various fields of use: resins, adhesives, oils, plastic, construction materials etc.

In the course of development, the PhD student Kait Kaarel Puss plans to optimize the processing steps of lignin, in order to improve usability of lignin and obtain detailed overview of the impact of industrial processing methods on the properties of lignin. The applied research plan of the Doctoral thesis covers various technological solutions for studying the properties of wood-based lignin and cooperation with the company for developing a final product fit for the market.

The instructors of Kait Kaarel Puss, researcher of organic chemistry of the University of Tartu Siim Salmar and professor of molecular system biology Mart Loog have high hopes for the success of the new initiative: similar special programs of PhD studies and industrial projects are planned also in cooperation with other companies. The instructor of the PhD student in the company is R&D manager of Graanul Invest Peep Pitk.

„We are extremely pleased that in the University of Tartu we have found a partner, for whom upgrading wood in innovative value chains is a clear priority and who is ready to take specific steps for promoting collaboration with companies through applied research,“ said R&D manager Peep Pitk.

According to Pitk, the first specific collaboration project with the university is a step to the right direction, which provides good opportunity to involve the latest developments in top research in product development already in early stages and thus increase essentially competitive ability on the market of innovative materials.

“Companies, who are interested in a PhD program, which enables to resolve two aspects at once – perform the research needed for product development and train a top specialist necessary for the company profile – are always welcome to negotiations,” said Loog. He added that for expanding technological and research capacity, the University of Tartu is planning cooperation also with laboratories of Tallinn University of Technology and the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

PhD student Kait Kaarel Puss. (Photo: Marko Söönurm)