Since the summer of 2020, Metsä Group and Fortum have been jointly coordinating the ExpandFibre innovation ecosystem, whose goal is to accelerate the development of sustainable products made from wood and straw. Metsä Group focuses on developing fibre-based products for the textile, packaging and composite markets, and studying the potential of fibre-based materials in several future end-uses.
Business Finland's funding for Metsä Group and other leading Finnish companies under the 'veturi' or 'accelerator framework signifies public support for high-risk industrial research. The funding is conditional on the company also increasing its own R&D investments during the programme. Metsä Group has met this challenge with measures such as the establishment of a new group-level R&D function. I've been building and developing this new function since the summer of 2021. It's been a joy to be part of this work, because the timing is perfect for the company, and the situations with the market, regulation and megatrends are optimal. With appropriately scaled and focused research and development resources, we will be an even better partner in the development of sustainable business.
Speaking of partnerships, one of the most important roles of the leading companies such as Metsä is to help the various innovators in the industry and academia to connect and network. To that end, the ExpandFibre ecosystem already has nearly 80 member organisations, from universities and research institutions to start-ups and large companies. Together, the ecosystem's members have launched 15 research and development projects, and their results will (hopefully!) lead into the bioproduct innovations of the future.
There are always risks in research and development – after all, the uncertainty of success is one of the most important characteristics of R&D activities. Sometimes, the difference between success and failure is small: whether or not you can find that last piece of the puzzle, part of the process, potential application or interested customer. The latter means unused research results. Networking with new companies and cooperating with universities and research institutions is necessary to get completely new bioproducts onto the market in the future.
ExpandFibre and our desired status as a leading company have been a jackpot for Metsä Group's R&D ecosystem, guaranteeing national funding for research topics we consider important. It has also encouraged us to have closer internal cooperation and motivated our research partners to reach for the cutting edge of global development. The final effects will be assessed at the end of the programme, but I think I can promise that the results from ExpandFibre will already be visible in consumers' daily lives within ten years. So let's keep forging ahead!
"We never have a boring day at work."
Even at the start of my career at VTT, I knew that biomass was worth investing in – it's the only way to sustainably produce materials and chemicals (at least until we can start capturing and utilising the carbon dioxide in the air!). Still, from a research institution's employee's perspective, the commercialisation of new bio-based products seemed like a distant idea. But at Metsä, I've had the joy of following the commercialisation of several new bioproducts – but this job requires patience! Problem solvers with a lot of ideas have their work cut out for them here, and we never have a boring day at work.