World first: Finnish companies produce plastic from soya residues

By guest author James O’Sullivan

Finnfoam, Brightplus, Nordic Soya and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have teamed up to produce compostable bioplastic from soya molasses.

Together, the quartet spent four years exploring the possibilities of soya molasses as a raw material of the future, arriving at a sustainable alternative to sugar- and corn-based polylactic acid.

“The process developed as an outcome of this co-operation project is the first in the world to produce an ecological lactic acid polymer from the side streams of soya production,” said Henri Nieminen, CEO of Finnfoam.

The innovation harnesses synthetic biology, chemistry and material technology, converting this industrial residue into a higher-value product using microbes.

The raw material used in the process is sourced from Nordic Soya’s Uusikaupunki plant, the largest soya protein concentrate processing plant in the EU. The soya molasses left over after the processing has previously been disposed of by incineration as it is unsuitable for food.

Known for its medical applications, bioplastic is also ideal for the manufacture of various compostable packaging applications and 3D-printing filaments.

Finnfoam intends to use the new bioplastic in the production of thermal insulation for buildings.

“Finland has huge potential to become a pioneer in biomaterials, but this requires resources for testing the scalability of the production process,” said Nieminen. “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.”

The biosourced materials company Brightplus is responsible for coordinating the project and, together with its partners, is producing new green chemistry innovations that can be tested at the pilot plant.

“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,” told technology director Jarkko Leivo. “We are now looking for pioneer-minded partners interested in this great technology with whom we can develop more innovative applications for this biopolymer.”

For the purpose of piloting new biomaterial innovations, the companies are also launching a pilot plant project at Nordic Soya’s Uusikaupunki site, which will be built during 2021-2022. The full-scale plant will be operating by the end of 2023.