University of Tartu and AS Graanul Invest signed a framework agreement last week which provides for research and development cooperation to develop wood and biomass valorisation technology in Estonia. According to the five-year agreement, the parties plan to conduct joint research studies and develop training programmes. Graanul Invest is also willing to contribute to doctoral studies in this area at the University of Tartu.
“There is surely a need and an opportunity in both Estonia and the whole world for wood and biomass valorisation on a new technological level, and the university is willing to cooperate with all enterprises who consider it promising and who would also be ready to finance the cooperation,” said Vice Rector for Development of the University of Tartu Erik Puura, recognising the initiative of Graanul Invest. “We are particularly pleased with the company’s plan to support doctoral studies.”
Peep Pitk, R&D Manager of Graanul Invest, was pleased to have found a local research partner in the University of Tartu – a partner who is looking towards industry and willing to contribute to a more applied approach to cooperation with the private sector. “In cooperation with our partners we are setting up an innovative wood fractionation plant, and cooperation with UT will help us find the best solutions for process optimisation and product development.”
In the University of Tartu, the framework agreement will be carried out by the Centre for Synthetic Biology led by Mart Loog, Professor of Molecular Systems Biology of the Institute of Technology.
According to Loog, the cooperation agreement resulted from the parties’ common interest in establishing high-technology industry for biomass valorisation in Estonia. “The University of Tartu has expertise in the area of synthetic biology and Graanul Invest has a clear vision on how to apply the know-how in industry,” said Loog. “Our cooperation should lead to converting the knowledge, which is currently on the fundamental science level, into a form that can be applied in industry. Biomass is our national treasure, and both parties are interested in its sustainable use.”
Cooperation under the agreement has already started. The core facility for wood chemistry and bioprocessing, a member of the cluster of biotechnology core facilities of Estonian research institutions (BTCluster), in cooperation with Graanul Invest have already started the validation of lignin analysis methods and evaluation of opportunities for lignin valorisation. The University of Tartu is currently preparing for a project of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Teaming programme in order to establish – in cooperation with the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Biosustainability of Denmark – a centre for the development of industrial cell factories in Estonia, one of the goals of which is to provide world-level scientific expertise for the development of the wood valorisation technology for Graanul Invest. The University of Tartu is also developing a master’s programme in industrial bioprocesses, which is specifically based on the interests of Graanul Invest and other biotechnology companies.