Canadian professor bringing chemical innovations around lignin to the Swedish market

What motivates an international researcher based in Canada to get involved in starting a business around forest residual streams in Värmland? Pedram Fatehi is a chemical engineering professor at Lakehead University, specifically focusing on the development of forest biomass in various ways. One of Pedram’s focus areas is lignin – a byproduct of paper and pulp production, which can be used to wholly or partially replace fossil materials in products such as carbon fiber, plastics, and asphalt.

There is a growing demand for lignin, and within the forestry industry, there is also a large supply of underutilized lignin. However, a lot of development work and product concretization is needed to reach the market. For many years, Pedram has collaborated with Swedish entities such as KTH, Karlstad University, RISE, Sting Bioeconomy, and Paper Province, and from this collaboration came ideas on how to utilize lignin and build business ideas around it.

Now, Pedram has helped to start the company LignoNext alongside his research work. LignoNext is working to develop environmentally friendly chemicals that can be used in various industries, such as construction, ceramics, textiles, and even as fertilizers. Chemicals based on pulp and paper residual streams become significantly more sustainable than the oil-based ones commonly used. The goal for LignoNext is to develop green chemicals that give companies the opportunity to make more sustainable choices.

A few years ago, the test facility Lignocity was started in Kristinehamn with the aim of driving development work on how lignin can be used to replace fossil raw materials, thereby opening up new markets for lignin products. Lignocity has become a hub for lignin-based research and business ventures and was a key factor in basing the operation of LignoNext in Värmland. The good collaborative climate and support systems for businesses in Sweden and Värmland are some other reasons:

– The Swedish way of collaboration is really good. Clusters are putting all efforts that they can. There is a shared agenda; to push for a sustainable future.

There is a great interest from both Nordic society and Nordic industry in finding sustainable solutions, according to Pedram. And these lignin-based chemicals are something no one else is working on and that advances the offering of green industrial choices.

Pedram also concludes that there is also a clear market gap, and to reach the market, products now need to be developed and scaled up. Currently, the focus for LignoNext is on product development and meeting potential customers to be able to launch offerings on the market within a couple of years.

– ­I have got a really good and collaborative team. I am a researcher and need people that bring other and different competencies, like business knowledge. Together we will go to the market and will start in Sweden, concludes Pedram.