We are excited to start our new research and commercialization project “FreshPack” since the beginning of September 2019. The project aims to identify the market potential and create new business from the research idea developed by the Food Materials Science Research Group. Assist. Prof. Kirsi Mikkonen leads this project and other members of the team are Project Planner Emmi Korjus, Doctoral Student Jaison Sithole, Commercialization Officer Petri Junttila, Prof. Maija Tenkanen, Postdoctoral Researcher Elina Jääskeläinen, and Prof. Johanna Björkroth.
Almost half of the global fruit and vegetable production is lost as food waste. FreshPack fights this problem with a novel active packaging component that maintains the quality, microbial safety, and freshness of plant-based products and therefore improves their shelf-life. We have started the further development of our active component along with testing it as part of the existing distribution chain. The component is bio-based and works well in both open and sealed packages.
In September, Emmi and Petri participated in the Smart Packaging Conference in Hamburg, Germany, which was a great kick-off for the project. The conference brought together other active and intelligent technology developers, brand owners, packaging producers, and processing experts to discuss new opportunities and applications for intelligent and active packaging. Among many good presentations, there were speakers from some companies targeting to solve similar problems as FreshPack. It was fruitful to explore the field and see different approaches and solutions to the same challenge.
Follow us for updates along the way from a great invention towards even greater commercial product!
Source of the fruit picture: Uni Material Bank
Our previous writing and networking retreat in October 2018 was such an excellently productive and positive experience that again in October 2019, the Food Materials Science Research Group, reinforced with Vice Dean of Research, Prof. Maija Tenkanen and her Carbohydrate Enzymology and Chemistry Group, and the Aalto Protein Team, led by Prof. Emma Master, spent three days at the Lammi Biological Station of the University of Helsinki.
The classroom was reserved for quiet working, where we reached an amazing flow experience for writing. Group meetings, face-to-face or via Skype, and many scientific discussions were held outside of the classroom. Fabio introduced us a modern idea about writing together an article in 24 hours, which we experimented. We enjoyed lively conversations, did a hiking trip to the nearby Evo forest area, picked mushrooms, and tasted them as an evening snack. Of course we enjoyed also delicious meals at breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks and dinner. The food was wonderful, and we could focus all our energy in writing. Evening sauna by the Pääjärvi lake was relaxing, and swimming in the fresh cold water kept our minds clear and sharp.
We are Elli and Kaisa, food technology masters students, and we were happy to spend the summer working as research assistants at Food Material Science research group. During the summer we worked with different polysaccharides and emulsions. Our research was focused on emulsion stability, and we familiarised ourselves with many different analytical techniques, such as Mastersizer, Turbiscan, and spectrophotometer… The microfluidizer in the processing lab was our best friend during the summer.
Working in this research group was very enjoyable and eye-opening experience. We were able to independently develop our own skills as researchers in planning, executing, and evaluating our experiments. The support system of the team was great, and help was always available when needed. It was especially motivating to work in such an ambitious team, whose focus was on real industrial applications. The topics of utilising side streams and novel emulsion stabilisers are very current in the food materials industry, which motivated us even more. It will be interesting to continue working with this research group alongside our studies and further develop our researcher skills.
Well Hello Helsinki and Viikki Campus!
August 15ht, 2019 brought upon an exciting opportunity for the first face-to-face meeting within the SNS Nordic Forest Research project HEMISURF (https://nordicforestresearch.org/sns-127/). Thanks to the immaculate hosting by Kirsi and Mamata, the project got a flying start accompanied by many, many plans on Nordic hemicelluloses. There will be more to come from the consortium: Kirsi Mikkonen, Bjørge Westereng and Tiina Nypelö. Next stop: Gothenburg 2020.
The Food Materials Science Research Group and the Carbohydrate Chemistry and Enzymology Group spent a refreshing recreational day at Suomenlinna World Heritage Site in Helsinki. On the way to the Suomenlinna ferry at the Market Square, the groups visited some of the University of Helsinki City Center Campus facilities, such as the beautiful main library and inspirational Think Corner. At Suomenlinna sea fortress, the groups attended a guided tour to learn about the complex and vivid history of the venue. After the exciting tour, we headed for a lovely three-course dinner and drinks at a local bistro. Lively conversations continued about Finnish history and grammar amongst other relaxed subjects.
Aerogels are ultra-light but very strong materials. They are studied for example as thermal insulators, controlled release for drugs, and templates for cell cultures for tissue engineering.
The European Union has granted funding for AERoGELS, a network of aerogel researchers with 36 participating countries. Finland is represented in AERoGELS by assistant professor Kirsi Mikkonen from the University of Helsinki and associate professor Henrikki Liimatainen from the University of Oulu.
AERoGELS is one of the EU-funded COST Actions and it provides funding for networking.
”Our meetings are scientific seminars where we present our research findings to other partners, learn about their work, and have the possibility to plan for potential future projects together. AERoGELS provides all aerogel researchers in Finland an opportunity to network with international experts, collaborate, and benefit from infrastructures offered by the partners”, says Kirsi Mikkonen.
She says that one of the greatest benefits of COST Actions is the funding provided for “Short Term Scientific Missions”, i.e., research visits between partner countries. “It was a wonderful opportunity for me already during my doctoral studies to visit and conduct part of my research at top international laboratories. Later, I have encouraged the doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers of my group to use this great advantage provided by COST Actions.”
The news in Finnish:
The Nordic Forest Research (SNS) –funded HEMISURF project had an excellent kick start, when master student Mari Brusletten from NMBU, Norway, visited the University of Helsinki in March 2019. Mari says:
“I was really happy that I got the opportunity to visit the Food Materials Science Research Group and to learn from their expertise on emulsions. This was a new field for me since I am working mainly on fermentation and downstream processing of yeast. During my stay at the University of Helsinki, I used mannans from spruce that I brought with me from Norway, and made emulsions with these. I observed and analyzed the emulsions over time using different instruments to find out their stability. Thank you to Mamata Bhattarai for helping me with the experiments, I learned a lot! I also got to see the city of Helsinki, a city that I had never visited before. Good food, nice buildings and attractions, and a lot of shopping facilities. I enjoyed my stay. Thank you.”
In aqueous paints, alkyd binders are already largely bio-based. The next step towards more sustainable paints is to use bio-based stabilizers to emulsify alkyds, so that they can be applied in spreadable and flowable paints and coatings. Within the former Tekes (currently Business Finland) -funded “Novel biomass-based solutions for technical emulsions (BITE)” project (2016−2018), we tested wood hemicelluloses (spruce gum and birch gum) as alkyd emulsifiers with promising results. Please read our full text open access article here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2019.03.017.
Ava Mikkonen, at age 9, kindly tested our paint prototypes, which only consisted of water, alkyds, hemicelluloses, and pigments, without any other additives such as drying control agents. Her beautiful painting illustrates a landscape with two mountain peaks.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (KSLA) organized their annual Commemorative Meeting at the magnificent City Hall of Stockholm on 28.1.2019. Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden delivered the Academy Awards, including diplomas for the Tandem Forest Values bilateral projects between Sweden and Finland. Assistant Professor Kirsi Mikkonen was happy to represent the ROCK project at this impressive ceremony, which ended with a festive dinner at the splendid golden banquet hall.
The first patent application from the Food Materials Science Research Group was submitted to the Finnish Patent and Registration Office, with application number 20185908. Our innovation will enhance the shelf-life of fresh plant-based food products during transportation and storage, and reduce food waste along the distribution chain.