Alexander Henn, 28, from Espoo received a significant doctoral thesis award – he developed new applications for wood-based lignin to create opportunities to increase the value of forest industry side streams


The Finnish Natural Resources Research Foundation encourages young research students to specialise in research that promotes the sustainable use of Finland’s natural resources by granting an annual award of EUR 10,000 for a doctoral thesis that best advances the Foundation’s goals. This time, the Foundation received 12 proposals for the award from seven Finnish universities.


The award was given to 28-year-old Alexander Henn. In his doctoral thesis “Scalable Surface Chemistry for Lignin Modification – Creating Value for a Forest-Based Society” completed at Aalto University, Henn developed methods to modify lignin-containing side streams from industrial sulphate processes for added-value products related to functional coatings and heat generation materials.


Lignin, a wood-based polymer, is generated as an industrial by-product. Thanks to its chemical composition, lignin has a number of interesting properties, but its effective use is difficult due to its poor solubility, low reactivity and heterogeneity. Currently, lignin side streams are mainly incinerated. In his doctoral thesis, Henn developed modification technologies that help improve the properties of lignin and use it to produce nanoparticles customised for various applications. During the thesis process, Henn developed two coating applications from lignin: an adhesive and hybrid particles for heat storage. The scalability of the developed applications increases the value of the thesis.


The results of Alexander Henn’s doctoral thesis have been published in scientifically high-quality publication series. In addition, the thesis has resulted in patent applications, and a spin-off company has been established based on it. The thesis combines scientific excellence and practicality. It advances the value-added use of Finnish wood materials in accordance with the principles of the bioeconomy and circular economy.



Henn previously received the Marcus Wallenberg Young Researchers’ Challenge Prize. Photo: Johan Gunséus/MWP