A Sweet Soy Story – World’s 1st bioplastic from soy molasses

March 27, 2021 |

Four companies developed the first process in the world to produce compostable bioplastic from food and feed production side streams. A biopolymer plant will be built in Uusikaupunki, Finland, in which bioplastic production will be piloted on an industrial scale. Finnfoam, Brightplus, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Nordic Soya have explored together the possibilities of soy molasses, i.e. soy processing side stream, as a raw material of the future.

The project

Soy molasses, which is not suitable for food, has previously been disposed of by incineration. Producing biomaterials from side streams of food production also improves the food production value chain.

Nordic Soya Oy uses soy grown in Europe in its Uusikaupunki plant. Soy molasses left over from its processing has been used as the raw material in the research.

“The process developed as an outcome of this cooperation project is the first in the world to produce an ecological lactic acid polymer from the side streams of soy production. This way we can offer a sustainable alternative to sugar and corn based polylactic acid, i.e. PLA, says Henri Nieminen, CEO of Finnfoam.

This Finnish innovation combines synthetic biology, chemistry and material technology in a completely new way.

“This project is both an excellent example of what expertise in industrial biotechnology can achieve and a triumph in converting a challenging industrial residue into a higher value product using microbes. This endeavour required significant efforts in technology at various stages of the process. It particularly made use of VTT’s expertise in synthetic biology, the modification of microbes and optimisation of bioprocesses,” says Tiina Nakari-Setälä, Vice President, Strategy and Business Intelligence at VTT.

The research project, partly funded by Business Finland, took four years.

The facility

For the purpose of piloting new biomaterial innovations, the companies are launching a pilot plant project in Uusikaupunki in connection with Nordic Soya Oy, the largest soy protein concentrate processing plant in EU. The pilot plant will be built during 2021-2022.

The full-scale plant will be operating by the end of 2023.

“When completed, the pilot plant will significantly support Finland’s sustainable development ecosystem and creation of future jobs,” says Nakari-Setälä of VTT.

At the beginning of 2021, Finnfoam Oy was divided into two companies, of which FF-Future will focus on future solutions. The pilot plant project is FF-Future’s first major investment.

The players

Let’s start with Finnfoam Oy – a family-owned company founded in 1982 focused on production of thermal insulation materials and a leading Baltic region producer of thermal insulation boards for building and construction insulation purposes, such as ground frost, base, wall and roof insulation materials. Main products are Finnfoam (XPS), FF-EPS and FF-PIR insulation boards.

Then we’ve got Brightplus – a pioneering Finnish biosourced materials company which creates reusable, recyclable and biodegradable side-stream material solutions via chemistry. From coating and barrier solutions to plastic replacement materials, they support leading global manufacturers and major brands in e.g. packaging, consumer goods and agriculture to achieve their sustainability goals. Their side-stream solutions reduce the circularity gap and meet the EU Green Deal 2030 targets.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd is probably one you’ve heard of for their innovative research that tackle the biggest global challenges of our time. They have almost 80 years of experience of top-level research and science-based results.

Last but not least, Nordic Soya Oy’s production facility is the largest full scale, multi-stage soy processing plant in the European Union. The annual soybean processing capacity is 240,000 tons for feed, food and technology industries. Their main products include soybean meal, soy protein concentrate (SPC) and soy oil with co-products of soy molasses, lecithin and soy hulls. They are certified Europe Soya, Pro Terra and FoodChainID non-GMO refining facility, holding a membership of the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association.

Looking for partners

“Finland has a huge potential to become a pioneer in biomaterials, but this requires resources for testing the scalability of the production process. We want to build concrete resources for the national ecosystem in the industry, and we are looking for partners who are interested in building the production of Finnish biomaterials and commercialising it for the global markets,” says Henri Nieminen from FinnFoam.

“It is a major technological step forward that side streams that are unusable in food production can now be used to produce responsible high value bio-based products,” says Jarkko Leivo, Technology Director of Brightplus Oy. “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. We are now looking for pioneer-minded partners interested in this great technology with whom we can develop more innovative applications for this biopolymer.”

Henri Nieminen, the initiator of the project, expresses his gratitude to Brightplus and VTT for the technical success of the project, having developed a functional concept from thousands of alternatives examined, as well as Business Finland, whose financial support has been a prerequisite for the success of the project.

Where to go from here?

Finnfoam intends to use the new bioplastic in the production of thermal insulation for buildings. Its ecological quality is enhanced by the fact that thermal insulation also serves as a carbon sink, thus helping to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.

Brightplus Oy, responsible for coordinating the project, produces new green chemistry innovations together with its partners that can be tested at the pilot plant.

Bottom Line

In the future, this Finnish sustainable concept for the development and production of bio-based raw material can be extended to new markets where soybean is processed for food and feed production. Bioplastic produced from the residues of soy processing has huge potential as a scalable export product in circular economy. Globally, residues from soy production could produce around 22 million tons of bioplastic per year.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Top Stories

Thank you for visting the Digest.