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RISE researcher receives half a million for the production of fossil-free aerogels

Fernando Alvarado at RISE Bioeconomy is awarded this year's Skills Prize from the Gunnar Sundblad Research Foundation. The award of SEK 500,000 will be used to initiate a Swedish research platform for cellulose-based aerogel particles that can, among other things, replace traditional absorbents, thickeners and microplastics. The prize will be awarded by HMK Carl XVI Gustaf on 17 April 2018, during the Forestry Week in Stockholm.

Fernando Alvarado is a PhD in Wood Chemistry and researcher in the field of new products from forest raw materials, products that could replace many of today's fossil-based. The type of products related to this year's Skills Prize is so-called aerogels.

Aerogels are porous materials with low density. To illustrate this, one can imagine a brick weighing 1 gram or a lump of sugar capable of carrying a stone of 2-3 kg without breaking apart. The materials are usually made of silicon, carbon or metal oxides. There are also organic aerogels of fossil raw material. New research results from RISE now show that aerogel particles could be made of cellulose from renewable forest raw materials.

The applications are many. They can be used as carrier of fertilizers and medicinal preparations for controlled secretion or as thickeners in foods where the aerogel also acts as a capture for radicals during the digestive process. Another interesting area is adsorption of moisture and heavy metals. 

“In a current EU project (Nanohybrids) we have studied the moisture absorption of cellulose-based aerogels for use in dishwashers. The result is fascinating. Our aerogels have a absorption capacity of 120 percent where other materials reach between 10 and 30 percent,” says Fernando Alvarado.

Cellulose-based aerogels also have the potential to replace microplastics, today representing a serious problem in the oceans, in products such as cosmetics and hygiene items.

“With renewable raw materials that are biodegradable and non-toxic, cellulose-based aerogels would thus be of great environmental importance,” says Fernando Alvarado.

Manufacturing could create new product opportunities in large volumes for the forest industry, but in order for it to become reality, increased understanding and knowledge is required. The Skills Prize enables initiation of a research platform in Sweden, which provides a basic understanding of the production, properties and applications of cellulose-based aerogels.

“My ambition is to associate professors in Europe with complementary skills to the research network and create conditions for securing future skills in RISE with new young researchers,” says Fernando Alvarado.

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Fernando Alvarado


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