Bloom Biorenewables Ltd (BLOOM) is a chemical startup from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The expertise of Bloom is to fractionate biomass to selectively produce molecules that can serve as alternatives to petrochemicals. The core technology – termed Aldehyde-Assisted Fractionation (AAF) – is an chemical process that prevents undesired degradation reactions from happening during the extraction process. More specifically, Bloom uses a “stabilizer” (aldehyde) to protect lignin and C5 sugars from forming reactive intermediates, thereby avoiding their further condensation to undesired products (condensed lignin, humins, etc)
The unique technology is a leap in the efficient conversion of plant material to chemicals. Bloom has shown that it is possible to convert virtually any type of biomass to its constituents, while keeping their original structure intact. This is especially interesting for lignin. Lignin is seen as the most recalcitrant biopolymer in plants, because the condensation reaction happening during its extraction are extremely favoured and cause complex rearrangement. Furthermore, current techniques typically introduce additional materials (e.g. Sulfur or Nitrogen) that strongly modify the properties. For the first time, Bloom process is able to extract a native form of lignin (retaining all weak β-O-4 linkages) and, as predicted by theory, AAF lignin can be depolymerized to monomers with theoretical yields, does not contain polluting elements and is far more soluble in many solvents.
The main tasks of Bloom during the project are:
- extract “native” lignin from biomass, while ensuring that other factions (cellulose and C5 sugars) are still in their most valuable form (no humin formation)
- depolymerize the lignin to monomers (30-50%) and oligomers (50-70%)
- separate the monomers from the oligomers
The AAF technology has been developed at the Laboratory of Sustainable and Catalytic Processing (LPDC) at EPFL. LPDC is one of the internationally leading laboratories in the field of lignin and biomass chemistry. This technology has been recognized by the scientific community and is gaining tremendous interest from the industry. Bloom has been rewarded over 15 prizes and acceleration programs over the course of the last 2 years, including ClimateKIC, MassChallenge or the WBCSD Disruptor award. Through these, the business aspects have been verified, over 10 active industrial collaborations have been launched and over €2.5M have been invested from public and private sources. In this consortium, Bloom contributes with the most versatile lignin currently on the market, but especially with the chemical understanding on how to best convert biomass to a high-performing fuel.