Director Industrial Transformation and Entrepreneurship
Tel. +41 61 295 50 15sebastien. meunier@baselarea. swiss
Muttenz BL – Oil is a core ingredient in pharmaceutical and chemical products. But with oil extraction in decline, researchers are looking for a renewable alternative. The University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland has made significant advances in this respect.
Philippe Corvini of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) in Muttenz in the canton of Basel-Landschaft together with his PhD student Christoph Gasser are developing ways to use lignin as a replacement to oil. “Until now, lignin was not very much valorised, but often simply burned,” said Corvini. Much has since changed and “lignin is presently the most serious alternative.”
Corvini’s research project is part of the National Research Programme “Resource Wood”, according to a statement from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). It is also supporting a second project in this subject from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Researchers there are exploring how to efficiently transform cellulose into hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), which is an important precursor for the production of plastics, fertilisers of biofuels.
The Basel-Landschaft scientists are concentrating on an enzyme that can degrade lignin and chop it into smaller pieces. Not only have they managed to transform 40 per cent of the lignin into very small molecules, they’ve also developed a way to reuse the enzymes by attaching them onto iron particles. “After the reaction, we simply approach with a magnet to attract the particles and recover the enzymes,” explained Corvini.
The enzymes can be reused up to ten times, reducing the energy and resources needed to produce them. The “green chemistry” is of great interest to the chemical industry, and the FHNW scientists are already collaborating with a lignin producer.