Rector Tiit Land: “We cannot continue along the former path.”
On 23–25 August, the TalTech summer seminar in Narva-Jõesuu brought together researchers, entrepreneurs and scientific advisers at the Ministries to discuss wood valorisation opportunities but also to talk openly about the problems.
Rector Tiit Land emphasised in his opening speech that socially this topic is extremely important and current. “In terms of natural resources, Estonia is not a rich country. The forest is one of our essential resources, but so far, we have not made smart use of wood. We export raw wood, but do not valorise it. And then we bring in valorised wood as import goods,” Land noted. It is high time we changed that!
TalTech steps on the accelerator
Research Manager of the TalTech Virumaa College Oil Shale Competence Centre Allan Niidu referenced in his introduction the TalTech Academic Strategic Plan (2020–2030) which was the primary incentive for initiating the new tradition – seminars on biomass valorisation.
In addition to smart environments, R&D, and dependable IT solutions, valorisation of natural resources is also one of the priority directions. It includes innovative solutions for economical and sustainable use of Estonian land, natural and man-made resources, which should bring about the necessary changes in the current action of Estonia.
Tallinn University of Technology will undertake all necessary steps to help address the challenges ahead for the Estonian economy with research-based solutions, and to be a leader, developer of new technologies and creator of necessary prerequisites, including for the greater use of industrial property, infrastructure investments, and cooperation between researchers and engineers. In addition, it is essential to strengthen and improve partnerships with the private sector, because only then can we talk about a greener future with smarter economy.
A broad range of topics
What was discussed? Consultant Kristel Järve described the current situation of Estonian forests. It is no secret that forest and forestry related debates are gathering increasing pace in the society. The strategic objective provides for the improvement of the quality of forests (wood), better capacity of valorising wood, and the triumph of circular economy by 2030. Head of the Development Department of Viru Keemia Grupp Indrek Aarna introduced which issues they aim to solve with the establishment of the new bioproduct mill. It has a positive correlation with both the green transition, Estonian economy, and scientific progress. Additionally, it should help end the export of raw materials which has taken on too large a dimension in Estonia.
Circular economy entrepreneur Kaur Kuurme introduced green production, using the example of NordFert factory, and the role of Estonian researchers in it.
What can we learn from Georgian juice industry?
TalTech Professor Jaan Kers spoke about the many opportunities of wood valorisation, Illia Krasnou, Research Fellow at Department of Material and Environmental Technology, made a presentation about cellulose, and Professor Timo Kikas from the Estonian University of Life Sciences introduced the thermochemical valorisation of biomass.
The following people made their presentations in the third session of the seminar: Maria Kulp, Senior Research Scientist at the TalTech Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology (on analytical methods for biomass characterisation); Indrek Reile, Research Fellow at the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (on recent breakthroughs in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy); TalTech doctoral student Piia Jõul (on utilising lignin for functional material production); and Senior Lecturer Maria Kuhtinskaja who explained how it is possible to alleviate the environmental footprint of Georgian juice industry by utilising principles of circular economy.
In the fourth and fifth session, the following people made their presentations: Zeba Usmani, Postdoctoral Fellow at the TalTech Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology (on lignocellulosic waste in Estonia and possible recycling options); also from that same department, researchers Tiit Lukk (on biochemistry of lignocellulose valorisation) and Eve-Ly Ojangu (on the ligninolytic properties of Actinobacteria); followed by master's student Catherine Kilumets and doctoral student Umair Qasim (on material development technologies based on cellulose derivatives); master's student Olivia-Stella Salm (on GC-MS characterization of wood extractives); students Marcel Mäger (on the characterisation of copper oxidases from thermophilic bacteria), Violetta Umerenkova (on CE analysis of sugars in biomass and lignin), Evelin Solomina (on the physiochemical properties of lignins), and Jose Daniel Morales Sööt (on using lignin to catalyse the Suzuki reaction).