Team Pro Fibers: Finnish biomass keeps animals and forests healthy

This team wants to put forests to good use instead of clearing them for arable land. They have produced a wood-based biomass that can be mixed with animal feed. This blend significantly improves the health and bacterial resistance of farm animals, says team leader Olli Dahl.

“Erosion intensely diminishes the surface area of arable land. New areas for cultivation are cleared in forests in order to produce nourishment for both humans and animals. This is not the kind of progress we want to see. We need to preserve forests because they function as carbon sinks – areas that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Our team came up with the idea of putting raw forest material to use in order to reduce the logging of forests to make arable land. We created a method, AaltoCell, for producing microcrystalline cellulose containing lignin, a material that binds the fibers in trees together.

We’ve mixed the biomass of cellulose and lignin with animal feed and tested the product on poultry. The results have been excellent: the birds grow more with less feed and they are healthier than with regular feed. The wood-based biomass is completely natural and pure. This way, we can improve animals’ bacterial resistance and prevent the need for antibiotics in animal husbandry.

Finland is one of the countries with the most forests in Europe. We should use that potential to feed animals, not to chop down trees and make more arable land. Additionally, the biomass we produce can be used as raw material for man-made fibers to replace cotton with. This would reduce the need for cotton cultivation. Our product would give Finland a huge competitive advantage, since the biomass can be produced in our pulp mills and exported anywhere in the world.

Next we will test the product with other monogastric animals, such as pigs and horses. The first AaltoCell production plant is under construction in Kemijärvi as we speak and is part of a biorefinery called Boreal Bioref. We’re ready to conquer the world!”

1. Why can your team make the world a better and more sustainable place?

Our forests have a lot of unused potential in general well-being and nutrition.

With our method we take care of forests’ carbon sinks and prevent the effects of climate change.

2. If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be?

The president of China, Xi Jinping. China is under a lot of strain because its forests are shrinking, the fields and soils are becoming increasingly contaminated and animal welfare is deteriorating. In addition, the quality of animal feed is bad. We could help China with all these issues. If the president were to accept our research, there would be no stopping us – our idea would be applied quickly throughout the whole country.

3. What’s the best thing that has come out of science and research so far?

Biological medical products, such as human cells and tissues used for transplantation, have enhanced many people’s quality of life very fast and have smaller side effects than many synthetic medicines.


Team members:

Olli Dahl, team leader, professor, Aalto University

Kari Vanhatalo, PhD candidate, Aalto University

Jarmo U. Valaja, professor, University of Helsinki