Interview with

Markku Ohenoja

University of OULU

Hello Markku, could you introduce yourself shortly.
At our University of OULU I work in the faculty of technology. Our research unit is called environmental and chemical engineering research unit and within the research unit we have different research groups – I am working in the control engineering research group. In BioSPRINT project we have people from another group specialized in separation technologies. A little from my background, I am a process engineer. I finished my PhD in 2016, so I am still in an early stage in my career as a postdoc. Although I am a process engineer I was oriented into automation and information technologies, so I have a little less experience and knowledge on the actual chemical engineering development that is taking place in BIOSPRINT and a little bit more information on utilizing the process system engineering tools for the process control, simulation and scale-up.
Maybe then to add, that we are since the beginning of project also involved in Task 2.1 regarding the development of machine learning algorithms to catalyst development. I will also keep myself busy with this. Further, we have a postdoc and a master student working in WP2 for BioSPRINT project. In WP 1 we have two PhD students doing the experimental work and research on the hybrid membrane purification and water recovery. The principal investigator from UOULU side in upstream purification is Prof. Keiski.

The University of OULU is the task leader in Workpackage 1 of task 1.3 – Hybrid membrane purification and concentration of HMC sugars. Could you tell us what is UOULU´s general role in BioSPRINT project?
The University of OULU has very diverse roles in the BioSPRINT project. We are taking part in WP1 with membrane separation and hybridization and we are the WP leader here.
We have the task lead also in WP2 in regard to utilization of machine learning algorithms in catalyst development. Further, we participate in process system engineering task in each of the four technical WP´s. On top of that we also have the lead in process safety assessment in WP6. As an academic part we take also part in the transferability study and dissemination actions. A lot of things to do for us .

Finding flexible enough solutions to handle the feedstock variability’s and uncertainties’ will be a big challenge.

What would you say are in the main challenges of WP1?
Looking at this from my automation approach, I think, handling the variability of the feedstock streams in the project. So, we are studying different kinds of feedstocks, which of course are not similar to each other and then we also have the variability within one feedstock, depending for example where the biomass is collected and seasonal variations. This aspect is quite interesting from my point of view and it requires that we should be able to find flexible enough solutions to handle those variability’s and we might be able to need to optimize the proposed solutions to different kind of situations. I think, that’s a big challenge, mainly of course there is limited budget to do all the experiments and developments for the separations and also for the later WP´s, for the reaction side and for the downstream purification side. It is certainly a challenge to be able to handle all this uncertainty and variability in the feedstock streams.
Thinking about my background, I will be very interested to see, what the partners will be able to develop for the monitoring and control solutions towards the industrial applications of the whole BioSPRINT concept. Those could contain measuring some of the components which are disturbing the membrane separation or are disturbing the reaction side, the catalyst inhibitors. That’s one side that I personally want to have a look at during the project.

So I guess, for you is then very important to know, what the other partners from WP1, e.g. the NIC in the first task find out about the components of the stream, right?
Yes, that is the starting point. At the beginning, they are focusing on conducting of the laboratory analysis of streams. But the partners might be able to develop industrial applicant online monitoring solutions for some of the components. That is something what is also interesting and what will also be linked to any of the automation and control development done during the project.

The possibilities to have a more significant improvement of the whole biorefinery in a plant-wide context - having an interdisciplinary focus is what I like

Looking at the whole BioSPRINT project, what do you think are the most relevant aspects of the whole project?
I think it is related to the development of the whole intensified biorefinery concept. The way I see it and how I also like the proposal originally, is that it gives lots of possibilities to have a more significant improvement of the whole biorefinery in a plant-wide context and not only focusing on individual sub-processes. Of the course the sub processes are developed during the WP 1-4, but then there is the validation in WP 5, which will look at the plant wide aspect of the things and together with all other cross-cutting activities we will be able to create technological knowledge to speed up the process design, the scale up and also the instrumentation and control. And of course the impact of the development will need to be evaluated within the crosscutting tools including the techno-economic and in the sustainability assessment. I like the thinking that this will produce the whole package for the intensified biorefinery. That is something that I haven’t come across with in previous projects.

You mean the interdisciplinary focus?
Yes, the interdisciplinary focus. We will have different solutions to different parts of the whole biorefinery concept and will be able to produce more impact by having development done in different areas.

OK, so this leads to my next question, so is this thinking about the whole package and the interdisciplinary focus what you most like about this project?
Yes! In addition to working with many experts across Europe is very nice, and I am looking forward to meet you all, not only online, but also in person. This is actually and was one of the challenges at the start of the BioSPRINT project – if we will be able to do everything online, rather than seeing the people. But as you mentioned, what I like most about the project, is that all are able to work together to create this joint biorefinery concept and of course this takes a lot of cooperation. I think we are already on the right track since the beginning of BioSPRINT.

Thank you for the interview, Markku.