Bjarne Holmbom was born in Ingå, Finland on September 28, 1943. His father was a farmer and his mother a school teacher in the village where they lived. He had two brothers, one died and the other has continued to farm.
Holmbom went to school at the age of five, which is rather unusual in Finland where the normal school starting age is 7 years. He finished high school in 1961 at the age of 17. He joined the ÅA University to study chemistry in the faculty of chemical engineering that provided education in wood chemistry and pulping technology. He earned his M.Sc. degree in 1967 and Ph.D. in 1978 and got very interested in the chemistry of wood and its application in new product development.
After his Ph.D., Holmbom continued to work at the ÅA University, first as a research scientist and later took on different teaching responsibilities and, in 1981, was appointed Professor. During this period he also visited the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada (1979–1980); North Carolina State University. U.S.A. (1985–1986); and INPG- EFPG, Grenoble, France (1999). He retired from his professorial responsibilities in 2008 but continued to work as a Scientific Advisor at ÅA University. In addition, together with his son, he also ran a small family company, Separation Research Ltd., providing analytical and preparative services mainly for the forest industry.
Holmbom started his research career working on tall oil produced in the chemical pulping processes and later expanded into environmental and paper chemistry areas. His key expertise and innovations relate to the utilization of wood components as a resource for value added products. For example, he extracted lignans and other polymers, such as poly-phenols, from wood and developed their usage in medicines, in functional foods, sun creams, technical antioxidants, and as natural organic biocides.
Holmbom and his colleague, Christer Eckerman, worked on breakthrough research and innovation creating a platform for large-scale separation, isolation, purification and applications of chemical components from wood, especially knots. It is said that Holmbom’s research has made an important contribution towards making the forest products industry a biorefining industry.
Holmbom has 14 patents to his credit, has published 266 papers, and 31 book-chapters.
He received many awards and recognitions such as the Marcus Wallenberg Prize, shared with Christer Eckerman (2008); Mark of Honor presented by the President of Finland; Langen Medal FPEA (2006), Finnish Science Award by Ministry of Education (2006); and Tallus Prize for Environmental Research (1996).
Bjarne Holmbom lives with his wife, Ulla Ericke, in Åbo, Finland.