​In January this year, the business graduate school kicked off with the goal of strengthening process engineering research and education in Sweden. The program has eleven doctoral students and postdocs and is funded by Bio Innovation, industry, and academia. Photo: Manfred Antranias Zimmer, Pixabay ​​

Renewable materials require smarter processes

“We must be extremely careful with what the forest provides so that every green structure, every carbon atom is used in the best way”, says Merima Hasani.
Buildings, packaging, chemicals, medicines, textiles and much more. Everything we produce today with fossil raw materials can be made from forest materials, which can play an important role in climate change. But we need more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient processes and to use our natural resources in a more sustainable way.
Merima HasaniMerima Hasani is a researcher and associate professor within the field Forest Industrial Chemical Engineering. The forest has always been central for her, both for recreation and as a resource. Now she has become project manager for the newly started Bio innovation Program – Resource-Smart Processes – a national industrial graduate school.
The aim for this project is to increase knowledge of chemical and process technology, to make the processes more energy efficient and to make better use of the forest material.

“It is about using the forest more resource efficiently. We will reuse the structures we take from the forest today and convert into paper or textiles into clothes as building blocks for other materials, so that they spin around for many years. My goal as a researcher is that the resources should be used in a sustainable way. Sometimes you come up with solutions to take molecules out of the forest and then burn them - it is a waste of what nature has built. We can do that since the price for what we use haven´t been set right”, says Merima.

The core of what today constitutes Merima Hasani's great interest as a researcher at Chalmers was aroused at a young age at home in Varberg.
“Even as a child, I wanted to understand how things are built on a molecular level. I grew up with a mother who was a chemistry and biology teacher, and I was fascinated by molecules. It is somehow the core of everything”.
During high school, her interest in technology was also aroused.
“I came to the conclusion that if you should apply chemistry and create new molecules, you should combine it with something more, so I applied for an education that allowed me to connect it with something that was applicable”.

“To be honest, when I look back to when I applied to Chalmers in 1999, I did not really know what chemical engineering was - but it allowed me to apply chemistry on a larger scale. That's how it started”.
Merima Hasani started her studies at Chalmers in the autumn of 1999. In October 2010, she defended her doctoral theses in Organic Chemistry with the title "Chemical modification of cellulose - new possibilities of some classical routes".

Merima had studied the possibility to give cellulose fibers new functionality and thereby create conditions for new or improved product properties. For that, she was awarded the 2011 Competence Development Award. In the same year, the trip went to Austria and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, BOKU, in Vienna, which has a leading research group in this field.
In 2016 she was awarded Future research leader by Formas. With that, she deepened her knowledge and the work with new concepts for dissolution and transformation of cellulose as an alternative and more environmentally friendly way to, among other things, create textile fibers.
Since 2014, Merima has been connected to the Wallenberg Wood Science Center - a collaboration between The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Chalmers University of Technology, Linköping University, and the forest industry. The center has built up deep knowledge of how the tree's constituent parts – cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin – can be separated and used in new materials.

“The Resource-smart Processes program and the Wallenberg Wood Science Center complement each other. The industry has realized the importance of investing in both”.
 “Wallenberg Wood Science Center is very focused on fundamental research towards the development of new materials based on forest biomass. In Resource-Smart processes, we focus on building the knowledge needed to be able to produce these materials”, says Merima Hasani.

Process engineering knowledge in Sweden regarding separation and valorization of forest biomass is world-leading, but there has been a major loss in the area. Twenty years ago, Chalmers really had the skills and good momentum in that business. But since then, several professors have retired without new recruitment. This was noticed by Hans Theliander, professor of Forest Industrial Chemical Engineering at Chalmers, Daniel Söderberg from KTH and Torgny Persson, Forest Industries. The three are the key people, together with the industry behind "Resource-smart processes".
In January this year, the business graduate school kicked off with the goal of strengthening process engineering research and education in Sweden. The program has eleven doctoral students and postdocs and is funded by Bio Innovation, industry, and academia.

Now Merima Hasani has taken over as coordinator
“Hans Theliander and I have worked together for a long time, he is one of the brains behind the program and has made a big impression”, she says.
All projects in "Resource-smart Processes" are led by research leaders within the academy, while the research issues are developed together with industry. Several of the projects involve several different industry partners.
“It is fun for us and the doctoral students to work close to the industry and feel the commitment that exists, and that their research can contribute to benefit the society. Within the program, we put competition aside to build knowledge that everyone benefits from - to move forward faster. Then we must agree on the major research issues”, says Merima.

So, what hasn´t been that smart previously?
“It is above all the processes linked to renewable resources, the forest biomass. They should help us manage the wood raw material and the energy in the best possible way. That’s why it is important to think about, streamline and reuse”.
With chemical and process technical knowledge, it is possible to optimize and redesign the processes, make them more energy efficient and utilize the forest material better, get a better material production yard simply.
This is about many things.
“In other words, the energy issue has always been an important part of the strategic thinking around process development. It is always included in our discussions and analyzes. Now it's more important than ever. Even the forest debate - before the Ukraine war - put everything at its peak. So again. We must be extremely careful with what we get from the forest so that every green structure, with every carbon atom is used in the best way. We must ensure that as much as possible can be reused. Resource efficiency and circularity are very important. That is the direction we must have in the future. I can´t see any other way”, says Merima Hasani.

Text: Ann-Christine Nordin

Page manager Published: Fri 08 Jul 2022.