A four-year project in which the Finnish companies Finnfoam, Brightplus, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Nordic Soya explored to potential for using soy molasses, a side stream of soy production, as a raw material for the production of compostable bio-based plastics has concluded on a positive note, the companies have announced.
The project, partly funded by Business Finland, demonstrated for the first time that lactic acid could be produced from soy molasses. It opens the door for the use of a sustainable alternative to sugar- and corn-based polylactic acid, said Henri Nieminen, the CEO of Finnfoam.
Soy molasses is unfit for consumption and has hitherto simply been incinerated. Bioplastic produced from the residues of soy processing has huge potential as a scalable export product in the circular economy. Globally, residues from soy production could produce around 22 million tonnes of bioplastic per year.
One of the partners in the project, Nordic Soya Oy, operates a soy protein concentrate processing plant in Uusikaupunki, Finland, which supplied the soy molasses used as the raw material for the research. The technology developed by the partners combines synthetic biology, chemistry and material technology in an innovative fashion, with each partners contributing their specific expertise.
“It particularly made use of VTT's expertise in synthetic biology, the modification of microbes and optimisation of bioprocesses,” said Tiina Nakari-Setälä, Vice President, Strategy and Business Intelligence at VTT.
Brightplus Oy, a Finnish biosourced materials company focussed on creating new green chemistry innovations, was responsible for coordinating the project, produces together with its partners that can be tested at the pilot plant. Jarkko Leivo, Technology Director at Brightplus called the development a ”major technological step forward”.
“Depending on the application, we can modify the properties of the biomaterial, such as its transparency and thermoformability, or improve its chemical resistance and reusability," he said.
The partners' next step will to invest in the construction of an industrial-scale pilot plant project at Uusikaupunki, close to Nordic Soya Oy. Construction will require around two years. The plant is expected to be operational by the end of 2023.
"When completed, the pilot plant will significantly support Finland's sustainable development ecosystem and creation of future jobs," said VTT’s Nakari-Setälä.
Once the plant is up and running, Finnfoam will use the new bioplastic in the production of thermal insulation for buildings. Insulation produced based on this material will be especially environmentally friendly as it also serves as a carbon sink, thus helping to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.