16/01/2018 – News / Environment / Sustainability / Biomaterials / Finland

Biodegradable shoes? Finnish researchers go one step beyond for sustainability

Photo_Eeva Suorlahti

Researchers in Finland have embarked on a collaborative effort to explore the potential of new biomaterials to set numerous sectors of the economy – from footwear to construction – down a sustainable path.


Wood cellulose, they say, has the potential to be a future super material that can replace fossil raw materials such as plastic and man-made fibres or even cotton. 


In Finland's extensive and multidisciplinary Design Driven Value Chains in the World of Cellulose (DWoC) research project, new applications have been sought for cellulose. The project has resulted in innovations and business models, especially those addressing the needs of small and medium-sized businesses in housing and textiles, construction and architecture, as well as health and wellbeing.


“The challenges of sustainable development simply force us to do things differently,” says Professor Pirjo Kääriäinen from Aalto University. “Research has been made around the world for some time, but we have now managed to find functional materials and technologies that make the change possible. The results of our research project, based on new biomaterials, are a major opening worldwide. Finland has the potential to be a true force for change in the future of materials.” 


The DWoC research project, which has been running since 2013, aims to accelerate the transformation of the Finnish forest industry into a dynamic ecosystem of bio-economy and increase the use of cellulose – especially in high-value products. The research project has combined the expertise of designers, architects, material scientists and business professionals. At the same time, a strong network of biomaterials has emerged in Finland.


The research project has developed new types of biodegradable materials, tested the 3D printing of cellulose by various methods and developed new manufacturing technologies such as foam printing and paper recycling into textile fibres. Such efforts have resulted in product concepts and ideas, alongside promising technological innovations. 


Such innovations include the seemingly counter-intuitive innovation of ‘biodegradable shoes’, and a bicycle made of nanocellulose, as well as a yarn directly printed out of cellulose pulp – the latter manufactured by Spinnova Oy, which started operations in early 2015 based on the innovation.


The research partners of the project are Aalto University, Tampere University of Technology TUT, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd and the Management Unit in the University of Vaasa. The five-year strategic research project, which has received €7.9 million from Tekes, will conclude in March 2018.

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