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Nature-inspired functional material solutions: Research promotes smart use of natural resources and creates new business opportunities

Our food system is highly dependent on imported fossil oil, fertiliser raw materials and plant protection products. How can we reduce our strong dependence on imports in the long run?

The more efficiently and comprehensively we can valorise biomass into high value-added products, the more sustainable we can make our production. At the same time, we can strengthen the self sufficiency and environmental sustainability of our production systems, and create new business opportunities. One of the strategic goals of Luke’s research is to replace non-renewable products with bio-based alternatives and ensure that research is taken into practice by stakeholders. 

Our research adds value to biomass and opens new pathways for cross-sectoral value chains

Research projects at Luke are developing bio-based product innovations and production schemes, such as a grass biorefinery concept, the utilisation of forest and food industry by-products as a source of food, feed, energy and fibre, and the production of functional, bio-based ingredients for various value-added products, such as cosmetics. 

Grass-shake — protein drink from the fields? Would it be possible to grow grass for monogastric food? For the processing of grass biomass, we have developed ways to separate the fibrous and proteinaceous liquid fraction. The liquid fraction could also be further processed into fractions and products suitable for direct human consumption. How does a sustainably produced, protein-rich grass shake sound? Research on the subject has been launched: the development of grass biorefinery concepts will increase the security of supply, create jobs, and improve the environmental sustainability of agriculture in the future. 

Wood, keep up the good! By-products from the forestry industry, such as sawdust and bark, can be converted into value added ingredients by using non-toxic separation techniques to produce e.g. hemicellulose and polyphenols for thickeners or preservatives in food and cosmetics, or to add antibacterial, antiviral or anti-inflammatory functionality to various products. Several scientific articles and media outputs have been published with partners. Demonstrating the effectiveness of the concepts will allow for further commercialisation. 

For the mushroom! Industrial biomass side streams can be exploited to produce an alternative mycoprotein using fungal mycelium. Mycoprotein can be used directly in consumer products, such as novel, protein-rich, plant-based alternatives to meat, or indirectly, as animal feed. Mushrooms can also be used to make myco-composites and leather-like materials suitable for various applications. Fungi can also be used to produce completely new types of antivirals, e.g. for use in cosmetics. As an effectiveness measure for mushroom-based solutions, we are preparing to bring inventions to market. 

“The world is constantly changing, and we are facing more and more complex problems. We need to innovate together, by bringing people from different scientific fields—chemists, engineers, biologists, microbiologists, economic and social scientists—together with experts and businesspeople specialised in the sustainable use of natural resources.” – Susan Kunnas, Research Scientist and Future BioArctic Design Project Manager.

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