The FibRe competence centre brings together a large number of research projects with the shared goal of finding ways to replace fossil-based plastic with bioplastic.

The competence centre, which is funded by Vinnova, is a cooperation between Chalmers and KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Its vision is to create mouldable, thermoplastic biobased plastics that can replace fossil-based plastics. Research is built around two groups of materials from agriculture and forestry, and a special fibre, lignocellulose, which can be extracted from materials in both groups. FibRe integrates the entire value chain, from research via material suppliers and industry to the final user. Some of the industry partners are Lantmännen, Tetra Pak and Stora Enso. While Stora Enso focuses on forest materials, the focus from Lantmännen is materials from agriculture, such as straw.

The focus from Lantmännen is materials from agriculture, such as straw. 

The research project covers a broad area and is divided into three themes – molecular modification, characterisation and processing. Materials from forestry and agriculture have somewhat different qualities. Forestry already has a stream with lignin while, for example, lignin from straw is not currently available. One aim is thus to find a process that can extract lignocellulose from agricultural materials and then develop a bioplastic with as little modification of the raw material as possible. A doctoral student at KTH will try to use their research to develop an efficient process for isolating lignocellulose from straw and comparing it with the equivalent process in wood.

Lantmännen is a major consumer of plastic, with everything from agricultural stretch wrap to food packaging. Compiling knowledge and expertise about lignocellulose and its potential uses is thus an investment in the future. Lantmännen is an agricultural supplier, with a plastic strategy and a commitment to replace virgin fossil-based plastic with recycled and renewable materials by 2030. Being able to replace all fossil-based plastics with bioplastics is still the subject of lively discussion. The most challenging factor is producing bioplastic that fulfils the hygiene requirements for food packaging. The project has two years to go before the research is evaluated and the areas that will continue to a second iteration (providing funding is available) are decided.

Text: Annelie Moldin, Lantmännen R&D
Photo: Helena Holmkrantz/HK Bild&Text