SUSBINCO project develops sustainable, bio-based binder and coating solutions – Interview with Prof. Chunlin Xu

Prof. Chunlin Xu from the Laboratory of Natural Materials Technology at Åbo Akademi University leads the consortium of the Business Finland funded co-innovation project SUSBINCO. He is a professor in renewable materials chemistry with education in chemical engineering. SUSBINCO has the ambitious goal of making Finland a global leader in bio-based packaging.

SUSBINCO develops sustainable, bio-based binder and coating solutions that can be used in versatile applications, including fibre-based packaging, paints, adhesives, sealants, abrasives, gasket materials and wood products. The focus is on enhancing the use of various forest-based industry waste and side streams, such as bark, sawdust or residual lignin, to improve the circularity and cascade use of biomass. Added value products are developed from the recovered waste and residues. Chunlin’s team works on developing bio-based surfactants from hemicellulose and lignin, that can be used in formulation in later stages of the project.  

When asked about the background and main motivation behind SUSBINCO, Chunlin answers promptly: “Sustainability. The society needs sustainability. The industry needs to reform to increase sustainability.” The energy crisis and climate change are core motivating factors behind various current initiatives for substituting fossil-based raw materials with bio-based solutions, such as SUSBINCO. What is more, bio-based alternatives are being sought to have even improved qualities compared to existing fossil-based ones, such as important health benefits in terms of human and environmental health. SUSBINCO contributes to a cleaner environment and improved health, for example by reducing the amount of microplastics in products. The impact is expected to be significant, especially in the packaging sector. 

One of the materials to be further developed in the project is suberin. Suberin is a natural barrier material found in bark. It acts as a barrier that protects the tree toward the surroundings. As Chunlin states, science has taken a lesson from the nature and is exploring the substantial potential of suberin for packaging applications. This kind of innovations contributing to the development of techno-economically feasible solutions will help Finnish industries to increase bio-based content in products while improving their overall sustainability and to outperform foreign competition. With the combination of enabling regulation and such innovative approaches and solutions, Chunlin sees that Finland could indeed claim its place as a forerunner in bio-based packaging solutions. 

SUSBINCO was initiated via the CLIC ProjectBooster process, which brings together researchers and companies to identify common thematic grounds and pathways to solve cross-sectoral, systemic challenges. In the ProjectBooster researchers are first pitching for research ideas to companies in the themes defined. Themes are defined by companies and by thematic strategic research and innovation agendas (SRIA). The selected research ideas are then further developed with interested parties and the process is facilitated by CLIC Innovation teams. “It was really powerful and practical – real problems were identified together with industries”, Chunlin says. “The process helps to minimise the gap between industries and research organisations and to pick the right expertise and the right mixture to form the consortium.” CLIC Innovation is also project managing the SUSBINCO project as a result of winning the open tender competition.  

In spring 2023, ProjectBooster will include a broad range of topics related to green energy transition, circular economy and bioeconomy, as well as RDI ideas from the CLIC-managed GreenE2 and 4Recycling ecosystems. Next spring, we are also inviting Locomotive (Veturi) companies to take part in the process and include themes for pitching for their needs.  

You can find more information about SUSBINCO on Åbo Akademi and CLIC websites.

More information on the ProjectBooster process and the preliminary timetable for ProjectBooster 2023 research pitch events on CLIC ProjectBooster website.