Intelligent forests are alive

Intelligent forests are alive

Five perspectives

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The future of the forest industry is in intelligent forests

The new age of the forest industry is symbolised by the strong demand for wood-based raw materials and the bioproducts made from them, and by Metsä Group’s next-generation bioproduct mill at Äänekoski. The volume of data gathered from forests is also growing – intelligent forests are leading the way and shaping the future of the forest industry.

Intelligent forests are alive  
Digitalisation and data will take forest management and wood harvesting into a new age.
 
Intelligent forests are alive

Perspective 1:

Forests and wood-based bioproducts are more topical than ever

What could be the forest industry’s green gold in the future – in a decade or two, even in a century, say in 2117? The question is important, since the forest industry in Finland and around the world is experiencing a renaissance, visible in the robust growth in the demand for wood-based bioproducts, new products with increasingly better properties and possibilities introduced by digitalisation.

Demand for pulp, paperboard, tissue paper and wood products continues to grow in Europe, Asia and the Americas, with the importance of China in particular increasing in terms of wood products. According to a forecast by the research organisation Pellervon taloustutkimus (PTT), exports of Finnish pulp alone will grow by 6–8 per cent this year, with this growth doubling next year. Paperboard exports are also at a record high level thanks to recent investments, with a clear 5–7 per cent growth this year, while demand for printing paper is declining at a steady rate of approximately 4 per cent a year. Exports of wood products also seem to be experiencing clear growth of up to 7 per cent.

This coincides with the globally shared interest in curbing climate change. The change towards a bioeconomy and a world free of fossil fuels and materials is already happening in many countries, including Finland. Responsibly produced, wood-based bioproducts are a sustainable alternative to products made from fossil-based, non-renewable natural resources, and the renewable northern wood raw material that binds carbon is more topical than perhaps ever before.

“The forces behind this change are megatrends: urbanisation, population growth and the growth of consumption. The world's population is estimated to increase by more than a billion people over the next ten years, and there’s an increasing need for materials. The need for textile fibres will grow, for example, but we are facing the ecological limits of cotton production. New fibres that are less burdensome on the environment are also needed to replace oil-based synthetic fibres. In packaging and construction, for example, wood-based products are already replacing fossil materials fairly frequently,” says Riikka Joukio, SVP, Sustainability and Corporate Affairs at Metsä Group.

The view into the future is opened by a research and development project from Metsä Fibre that aims for a pulp-based textile fibre to be introduced to the international markets in cooperation with the Japanese company Itochu Corporation. The project has already reached the pilot-plant stage. Another interesting future segment of the forest industry is the use of a pulp production side stream, lignin, in materials, the potential of which is also being studied at the moment.

“New products are being developed all the time. Therefore, the question is how to develop new products and successfully create a market for them on the basis of this research,” says Joukio.

Digitalisation is also providing new perspectives on the future of the forest industry and is making forests increasingly intelligent. The more efficient use of data concerning the growth of forests and collected from forest environments is reflected throughout the industry's value chain – from forest ownership to forest management, mill environments and innovations – in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

Intelligent forests are alive

 Metsä Group will start up the world’s first next-generation bioproduct mill in Äänekoski in August 2017.

Perspective 2:

Intelligent forests create value for the economy and
open up views to the new

The forest industry is standing in the middle of infinite possibilities. The starting point is renewable wood raw material from sustainably managed forests and products that also act as carbon sinks and storage, combating climate change.

The foundations are strong. With its 22 per cent of exports, the forest industry is Finland’s biggest export industry, employing 42,000 people in Finland directly, particularly in the provinces. Every job in the forest industry indirectly creates three new jobs in our country. In addition, Finnish forest industry companies employ 37,000 people abroad. The forest industry is responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the value of industrial production (2014), and the trend is on an upward curve.

“The combined effect of the forest industry and the processing industry on our national economy is nevertheless even bigger, by a significant measure. We also need to remember the well-being created by forest-based tourism, fishing and hunting. A large part of this is due to everyman’s right in Finland,” adds Joukio.

Riikka Joukio  

And Finland is not about to run out of forests. They cover some 75 per cent of Finland's area and, thanks to sustainable forest management, the amount of wood that grows every year exceeds the amount used. It is likewise notable that the annual growth of forests has doubled over the past 50 years.

 

Forests grow roughly at a rate of 110 million cubic metres a year and the sustainable felling opportunities amount to approximately 80 million cubic metres. Wood consumption use is expected to increase by about 10 million cubic metres by 2018.

 

“While we can still increase the use of log wood, which is ideal for construction products, for example, the pulpwood used for pulp production is nearing 100 per cent usage rates once the industrial projects now under construction are completed and reach full speed,” says Joukio.

 

According to her, more wood should be harvested from forests than currently is, and this can be achieved by promoting professional forest ownership.

 

Metsä Group builds well-being by processing wood. The company manufactures products in seven European countries and employs 9,300 people. Its products are sold worldwide. Metsä Group’s mills in Finland account for nearly 5 per cent of the country's export earnings. The company pays more than EUR 600 million in salaries every year and purchases about EUR 500 million of wood, mainly from private Finnish forest owners. In addition, it purchases more than EUR 300 million of harvesting and transportation services from contractors every year. This money also boosts the well-being of the provinces.

 

“Our operations aim for a fossil-free society. Nearly 90 per cent of the wood we use is certified. Forest certification requires the production chain to consider the diversity and multiple uses of forests, the legality of the wood and occupational safety in various phases to an extensive degree. The entire chain of operations is verified by an external party. Due to this procedure, we also always know the origin of the wood we purchase. We produce 14 per cent of Finland’s renewable energy, and the share will grow by approximately two percentage points when the new bioproduct mill at Äänekoski reachs its nominal production,” says Joukio. Discussion about biodiversity is increasing, and it is also an important topic for a company that promotes sustainable forest management.

 

“The diversity of forest-dwelling species is based on domestic species of wood and requires that forests remain forests. Sites that have special significance in terms of nature are always considered due to certification alone, and a forest’s variability supports the preservation of various habitats. A diverse forest with a variety of domestic species is a healthy ecosystem that is resistant to damage,” says Joukio.


Intelligent forests are alive

Perspective 3:

We are heading towards a renewable world, but how is this reflected in the future of the forest industry?

Metsä Group’s new bioproduct mill, starting up at Äänekoski in August of 2017, is a concrete example of the fresh winds blowing in the forest industry – in terms of both its scope and operating models. The mill also reflects the gradual transition to the era of the circular economy: it will utilise the wood raw material in full, meaning that nothing goes to waste.

“The bioproduct mill is the biggest forest industry project in Finland and all of Europe, with an investment of EUR 1.2 billion. The mill will increase the value of Finland’s exports by approximately EUR 0.5 billion a year, thereby strengthening the Finnish economy,” says Riikka Joukio.

She points out that the new business is born next to the existing operations in cooperation with partners. Metsä Group’s long history, strong know-how and continuous improvement enable the development of entirely new bioproducts concepts.

“You must have a profitable core business with large volumes first. Without it, industrial ecosystems such as the one at Äänekoski , would not be possible.”

We should also remember that the current products have been developed systematically. Metsä Board’s paperboard, for instance, is nowadays much lighter in weight than before, although its strength properties have remained unchanged. Product safety has also been the subject of increased attention.

“We have been renewing all the time. This is why our products are competitive in international markets,” says Joukio.

Significant added value and future opportunities for the forest industry are also introduced by the circular economy, which aims to use natural resources sustainably and in such a way that they stay in circulation for as long as possible.

“The forest industry’s role in the circular economy is extremely important, given that the Finnish economy is built around the forest industry. Our well-being will continue to be very much dependent on it in the future as well,” says Mari Pantsar, Director of Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund.

Product gas and new biofuels

​Product gas is a biofuel made from bark from pulp production. It is used instead of heavy fuel oil as the primary fuel for the lime kiln in the bioproduct mill. Around half of the bark is gasified, and the rest is processed into other types of biofuel or bark products.

Scents and perfumes

​Turpentine is a by-product of pulp. It is used in the production of scents, perfumes, lipsticks, detergents and paints, among other products.

Paints and tyres

​Tall oil is processed into biochemicals by separating fatty acids, rosin, distilled tall oil and pine pitch from raw tall oil. Products made from tall oil can be used in the manufacture of paints and tyres, as well as paperboard and paper products. Highly processed tall oil is also used in nutrients, and it adds health benefits to animal feed, for example.

Sulphuric acid and methanol

​The bioproduct mill’s sulphuric acid plant is unique, even internationally: it will be used to convert odorous gases into sulphuric acid through a chemical process. The sulphuric acid will be used in the bioproduct mill, which will significantly reduce the need to transport chemicals by rail and road. The sulphuric acid plant will help the bioproduct mill progress towards a closed chemical cycle, a future standard in the industry.

New bioproducts

​Lignin can be used to make new added-value products, such as biofuels, composites, chemicals, glues for wood construction and plasticisers for concrete. In terms of lignin use, Metsä Group has reached the pilot-plant stage: it is studying the possibilities of using lignin as a biomaterial.

Biogas and solid biofuels

EcoEnergy SF has built a biogas plant in the bioproduct mill area. The plant is the first in the world to make use of the sludge generated during pulp production. It produces biogas, which can be processed into a vehicle fuel. It will also produce solid biofuel pellets and/or fertilisers.​

Electricity and steam

The new bioproduct mill will produce bioelectricity, process steam, district heat and solid bark-based fuels. The recovery boiler in the bioproduct mill will produce massive amounts of steam. A significant part of the steam will be converted into bioelectricity. The mill will be able to produce up to two terawatt-hours of bioelectricity per year, which is equal to around 25 per cent of the power generated annually by the Loviisa nuclear plant. District heat generated by the mill can be used by the town of Äänekoski, for example.​

Pigments

​Specialty Minerals in Äänekoski uses the carbon dioxide from the bioproduct mill to produce calcium carbonate (PCC), which is used as a filler and coating agent in paper and paperboard production, for example. CP Kelco in the Äänekoski mill area produces carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) from pulp. CMC is used as a thickening agent for example in yoghurt and toothpaste and also in oil drilling.

Biocomposites and textile fibres

​Ecological biocomposite is made by combining softwood pulp with plastic. It feels like wood and can be used instead of plastic for example in the electronics and automotive industries and in the production of musical instruments. Aqvacomp, one of Metsä Group’s Finnish partners, has for example signed an agreement with the electronics giant LG on the supply of biocomposite for LG’s Soundbar SJ 9 loudspeakers. Biocomposite will be produced in Aqvacomp’s demonstration plant, which will be started up at Metsä Group’s pulp mill in Rauma in autumn 2017. Aqvacomp is also exploring the possibility of building a larger plant in Äänekoski once the bioproduct mill is operational.

Fertilisers and soil enrichment agents

Ash, lime and dregs generated during pulp production are used as forest fertilisers and soil improvement agents and in landscaping. Forest fertilisers accelerate growth and enable earlier thinning and regeneration felling. Ash can be used instead of natural rock materials in landscaping, such as building load-carrying forest roads.​


Intelligent forests are alive

Perspective 4:

Digitalisation is bringing intelligent forests closer

Digitalisation is providing the forest industry with more opportunities and entirely new kinds of operating models and products. Even if the origin of wood and wood supply have already come a long way in terms of digitalisation, its effects can soon extend increasingly strongly in the mill environment as well. New operating models are on their way: pulp bales are furnished with RFID tracking tags, and production maintenance at mills relies on mobile solutions. The Metsäverkko app, launched by Metsä Forest in 2015, allows forest owners to carry their forests in their pockets and the members of Metsäliitto Cooperative to manage their forest assets whenever and wherever they are.

“The eventual introduction of intelligent paperboards and intelligent textiles made from wood fibre that let you know when they need washing is a certainty. Finland is in a really good position in this regard, given that we are very strong in the forest industry, have our own raw material and that we are also very good at digitalisation,” says Pantsar.

Digital services also take forest ownership to a whole new level and make forest management simpler than before. 

More than a quarter of Metsä Group’s wood trade is already carried out digitally through Metsäverkko.fi, and in terms of forest management services, it’s even more. Future steps include the preparation of more efficient forest plans and modelling with the help of laser scanning and virtual reality, for instance.

Intelligent forests are alive

With the help of laser scanning, precise 3D data on the forest can be obtained, which can then be utilised
in the creation of forest plans, models and virtual forests, for example.

Perspective 5:

Intelligent forests create intelligent products

So what are the future products of the forest industry like? Sitra is currently conducting a survey on the future outlook for wood-based products, in which the only limit is our imagination. Mari Pantsar believes that wood raw material lends itself to almost any purpose whatsoever.

 

“One of the reasons that make wood construction such a superb example is the fact that wood and forests are important carbon sinks. And when you make durable products out of wood, the products serve as carbon storage at the same time, thereby helping to curb climate change. There is also a great variety of wood-based composites that can be used as construction materials. And now there are studies focused on textiles. There are also different kinds of pharmaceuticals, chemicals and bioactive substances,” says Pantsar.

Mari Pantsar  

Making wood products intelligent represents a whole different kind of leap into the future. If consumer-driven products, such as packaging materials, are made intelligent, they will provide new insights into consumer behaviour.

 

Pantsar sees new opportunities in the utilisation of the link between the circular economy and climate change. This is something that she thinks has not yet been truly understood in Finland or in a lot of other countries.

 

“If we can keep materials in circulation for as long as possible and eliminate waste by not generating it, it can go a very long way in reducing climate impact. In other words, the circular economy is also an answer to climate change. It would send a fantastic message to the world that Finland is the first country to understand the connection between the efficient circulation of materials and climate change.”

 

Mari Pantsar believes that we will have come a long way in the circular economy by 2050. Right now, we are at the point where individual companies are coming up with one fascinating and profitable business model after another based on the circular economy.

 

“Scaling takes place all the time, and at some point they will become mainstream.”


Read and learn more about our intelligent forests.

Virtual forests are here, and digitalisation is paving the way for intelligent wood products. Read more about how professionals in the field see the future of the forest industry.

Riikka Joukio
Riikka Joukio (M.Sc. (Eng.), MBA) is the Senior Vice President for Sustainability and Corporate Affairs of the Finnish forest industry company Metsä Group. Metsä Group is a forerunner in sustainable bioeconomy, focused on the advancement of the circular economy and partnerships throughout the value chain – from sustainable forest management to production and end products. Riikka has extensive experience of the global forest and packaging industry. She is also an active member of a number of Finnish and international sustainable forest management and forest industry organisations and networks..
 

Mari Pantsar
Pantsar heads the “resource-wise and carbon-neutral society” theme area at Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund. She has about 20 years’ experience of managerial tasks in the development of cleantech business in the private and public sectors and on the boards of several companies. She has a doctorate and holds the title of docent at the University of Helsinki and at Lappeenranta University of Technology.


SOURCES:
PTT forecast: Metsäsektori 2017/kevät (in Finnish)

Statistics Finland: Value of industrial output in 2014 (in Finnish)

Natural Resources Institute Finland: VMI12 (in Finnish)