Making more from less and inventing new

Innovating for resource efficiency

           
 

Metsä Group's research, development and innovation (R&D&I) work focuses on resource efficiency, vast potential of renewable raw materials and value of our products.


Metsä Group has set three focus areas for research, development and innovation work. These are circular economy and resource efficiency which emphasise making more from less, low impact production and zero waste. The second focus area is renewable raw material as a competitive edge that focuses upon reducing carbon footprint, new biobased products for new value chains, and sustainable forest management. Thirdly we seek new ways for adding value to products and services by lightweighting and less energy-intensive structures.

Part of our R&D&I work is staying up-to-date with relevant topics within the industry from process development to forestry and climate research. For example in 2016 we held an internal seminar with the University of Helsinki on global megatrends and carbon balance. 

 

Below are examples on innovation, and research and development from our business areas

 

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Metsä Forest: Better forestry with drones

 Digitisation has changed Metsä Forest’s operations since the 1990s: digital maps, forest information, GPS all have made forest management easier and more sustainable. With online services it’s not always necessary to travel to meet the forest owner – just log online and a wealth of information is available. 

The most recent leap was taken in 2015 when the first online wood trade was made. Since this, around 20% of wood trade and over 25% of service contracts have been made through Metsä Forest’s online services.

What next? Metsä Forest has set up a pilot scheme with drone helicopters for forest inventory. Using drones increases the amount of information about forests, which in turn makes forest management planning and ground work more efficient. Virtual reality can make it possible to construct a digital twin of the forest so that forest issues can be discussed from the comfort of forest-owner’s sofa with a virtual reality headset on.

 

Metsä Wood: Quick response to a customer

For the Australian laminated veneer lumber (LVL) market, Metsä Wood needed a stiffer Kerto product than for Europe, or the US – 15% stiffer. Reacting to the changed building code, Metsä Wood started a research project testing the effects of adding birch to the product which is typically manufactured with spruce.  

Metsä Wood needed to react quickly, and together with their Australian customer, they ensured that the product met the market requirements. As with all products used in construction, the importance of product liability is significant and a large part of product development consists of testing the product itself, and then its manufacturing process. Products must meet strict regulations verified by a third party. The development of birch Kerto also involved employees from Metsä Forest as obtaining good quality birch logs can be challenging. This cooperation took off quickly and all parties worked flexibly, with production starting successfully at the Lohja mill in Finland. The first products have been delivered to Australia.

Read more: Kerto's journey to Australia

 

Metsä Fibre: Textiles from wood

Metsä Fibre is developing new methods for conversion of pulp into textile fibres. First, work to identify new pulp-dissolving ionic liquids was initiated. Then we partnered with research institutes and companies to invest in laboratory-scale production equipment. In 2016, the first concrete item, a scarf, was made to prove that the new concept might actually work. The next step is to further develop the concept in a pilot plant.

This wood-based textile fibre may replace current commercial textile fibres – oil-based, cotton and viscose – as a more environmentally friendly option. For example, cotton production competes with land needed for agriculture and requires a lot of water and pesticides. Further, compared to competing fibres, the production process of new wood-based textile fibres is potentially more energy-efficient and creates more textile fibres from the same amount of raw material.

The basis for the new concept was developed in joint research programmes led by CLIC Innovation, where Metsä Fibre holds a leading role.

Read more: Fantastic fibres
Read more: Pulp to lead the way for a textile revolution

 

Metsä Board: New boards, new barriers

Metsä Board’s Husum mill in Sweden has been the centre of attention. First, a new board machine started in February 2016. Second, a polyethylene (PE) extrusion coating line will start during the first half of 2017. Both add to Metsä Board’s product portfolio: food service boards with barrier properties against, for instance, moisture and grease. For both, there has been an extensive programme of test runs and pilots ensuring that the end product fulfils customers’ requirements. One part of the work has been product safety, for example evaluating different polymers in extrusion coating.

Now Metsä Board can offer a complete solution. Efficient production with extrusion coating will make it
easier to ensure consistent quality and efficiency of the supply chain. It also eliminates the need to transport the board to external partners for coating.

Metsä Board isn’t resting on its laurels but continuing the development work on other barrier solutions, including biobased materials.

Read more: Husum mill breaking new barriers

 

Metsä Tissue: Smart form for baking

It took two years from idea to product. But here it is: SAGA Baking Form that partners up baking paper with corrugated board. This development started with an interest towards reducing the use of baking forms made from, or coated with plastic. Soon it was discovered that collaboration with Metsä Board would bring added benefit: a strong form with the same ease of use one gets when using baking paper. To make the baking form strong, it combines baking paper coated with silicone on one side with a two-wall corrugated board.

An important aspect was confirming the form’s product safety as food forms need to stand heat and moisture. This is why all the layers of the product have been carefully tested in a third-party laboratory against quality and product safety criteria. The SAGA Baking Form has been launched to the Finnish market with the potential to expand to European markets – where there is demand for products that can replace the use of plastics but aluminium as well.