FreshPack – new business from research ideas

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

Emulsions from Norway spruce started the HEMISURF project

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.”

German-Finnish collaboration and nanoparticle interactions

Doctoral student Verena Wiedenmann from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Max Rubner-Institut in Germany visits the Food Materials Science Research Group from August until mid-December 2018:

‘I am super happy that I had the opportunity to visit the gorgeous city of Helsinki along with learning from the expertise of the Food Materials Science Research Group and meeting all those nice people. I am a PhD-student from Germany and work on the interactions of solid lipid nanoparticles with protein and their influence on protein gel properties. At the University of Helsinki, I produced protein films with incorporated lipid nanoparticles and emulsifiers. I characterized these films regarding their barrier and mechanical properties. During my stay, I learned a lot about the different characterization methods and benefited from the knowledge the people have here. I also got a glimpse of the work of the other group members, as it was very interesting to see what they do in their research. I had the luck to spend 3 ‘writing days’ in Lammi, where I experienced the Finnish sauna and cold-lake-swimming together with a great working ambience. I am really enjoying my time here!’

We will ROCK!

“We are excited to start our new collaborative project ROCK (Role of lignin Carbohydrate complexes as Key to stable emulsions) together with Assoc. Prof. Martin Lawoko from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, and the new group member, postdoctoral researcher Danila Morais de Carvalho. We are looking for excellent synergy and highly interesting results! The project is funded by Tandem Forest Values, a bilateral research program, which was a gift to 100-year-old Finland in 2017. Vi tackar Sverige för den fina gåvan!”

FoMSci Group Leader, Assist. Prof. Kirsi Mikkonen and University Lecturer Maarit Lahtinen visited KTH, Stockholm, in October 2018 for the kick-off meeting of the ROCK project.

Group leader makes a research visit

The FoMSci Group Leader, Assist. Prof. Kirsi Mikkonen made a research visit of three weeks to the University of Toronto (UofT), Canada. The purpose of the visit was networking with UofT researchers, building up collaboration, and developing new research ideas. UofT warmly welcomed the visitor and provided great facilities, including an office with a wonderful view to the famous landmark of Toronto, the high rising CN Tower. Together with the host researchers, Kirsi made preliminary experiments in the laboratory and exchanged ideas with experts in various scientific fields. The best ideas are born when they are viewed from different perspectives! The visit was pleasant, efficient, and fruitful – we wish to encourage all researchers to make exchange visits if possible.

Italy moves to Helsinki

“Having the possibility to study new techniques and to work with a great group in the charming Helsinki is the best experience I could do”. These are words of Giulia Alt, an Erasmus student from the University of Udine (Italy), performing the experimental work for her master thesis in our laboratory. The thesis is focused on the evaluation of the functionality of surface active molecules from grains and on their characterization in terms of chemical composition and properties. Then the study moves forward with the formation and characterization of emulsions stabilized by these plant-based compounds. We also had a chance to taste and enjoy grains in the form of most delicious Italian pizza prepared by Giulia Alt and Fabio Valoppi!

Visitor from Norway

Doctoral student Ragnhild Aaen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) visits our laboratory to prepare and characterize emulsions as part of the Nordic Forest Research (SNS) –funded WOOD-PRO project. Novel wood-based hydrocolloids may become a future solution for creating structure for food and other life-science applications in a sustainable way. “We are targeting especially the structuring of low-fat food products. If my research is successful, we can develop more healthy and clean-label foods for consumers that prefer natural ingredients”, says Ragnhild.

Networking and collaboration with Luke

Research Scientist, Dr. Petri Kilpeläinen and his colleagues from the Natural Resource Institute Finland (Luke) invited the Food Materials Science Research Group for a visit at Luke’s brand new Bioruukki facilities. We learned how biomass can be extracted in semi-pilot scale using pressurized hot water. Forests, swamps, and industrial side streams are highly interesting sources for valuable components that can be recovered using this method.

After lunch we visited also Luke’s laboratory in Otaniemi, and then had a joint tour at our own facilities in the Viikki Campus. The enjoyable and idea-rich day ended with snacks and networking in our sensory laboratory.

Trip to Diamond Light Source Synchrotron

In December 2017, doctoral student Mamata Bhattarai and postdoctoral researcher Fabio Valoppi from the Food Materials Science Group, and postdoctoral researcher Inkeri Kontro from the Department of Physics spent 24 hours at the Diamond Light Source in Oxford (UK).

Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron facility comprising more than 30 beamlines for advanced material characterization. The team worked at the B21 beamline under the support of the senior beamline scientist Katsuaki Inoue carrying out small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) analysis on hemicelluloses based emulsions characterizing their interfacial structure.

The team successfully utilized the granted beamtime collecting data from more than 100 scans. The data processing is going on and we expect to obtain crucial information regarding hemicelluloses organization at the oil/water interface. Stay tuned!

Greetings from the historic town of Tulln!

During November 2017, doctoral student Mamata Bhattarai is on a 4-week research visit at the Division of Chemistry of Renewable Resources, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Austria. She works in Campus Tulln, which is located 27 km from Vienna.
Mamata’s research focuses on understanding the associative behavior of spruce galactoglucomannans – spruce gum – and their macromolecular properties in emulsions. The challenge is to characterize heterogeneous galactoglucomannan assemblies that contain phenolic residues.
In BOKU, Mamata learns and develops a method to characterize these assemblies and studies their dynamics over time.