Metsä Fibre, part of Metsä Group, is responding to global challenges – such as climate change, population growth and resource efficiency – with innovative solutions based on renewable wood raw material.
“Our starting point is that new products are always based on our high-quality raw material or the side streams of our processes. This way, they provide excellent support for our other production and improve our resource efficiency,” says Kaija Pehu-Lehtonen, SVP for Business Development at Metsä Fibre.
The demand for new bioproducts is growing continuously, given that businesses and consumers the world over have begun to think about ways in which to reduce their carbon footprint.
“The needs are found among our existing customers but also, to an increasing degree, in entirely new value chains. Many companies are looking to replace fossil materials with wood-based materials, for example.”
The work is not always simple, but Pehu-Lehtonen is convinced that the various constituents of wood contain solutions for numerous needs.
“Cellulose is a naturally occurring polymer that lends itself to the production of a truly wide range of products. In the development work, we nonetheless have to think about the applications in which each material is at its best. The better we understand our customers’ needs, the better the solutions we’re able to offer them.”
Long-term development work
Refining ideas and research results into commercial products requires long-term, multi-sectoral cooperation, in which Metsä Fibre engages in a number of different ways.
“Universities, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and businesses representing different industries are important collaborators. Naturally, it’s important for us that our potential customers in the value chain are also involved in projects from as early on as possible.”
Metsä Fibre also participates in EU-level research projects investigating the possibilities of lignin, textile fibre and new bark products, for example.
As an example of projects providing the industry with a new competence base and new data, Pehu-Lehtonen mentions FinnCERES, the science-based joint competence centre of VTT and Aalto University.
“The bioeconomy research conducted in Finland really is of an extremely high quality. It produces data that can be put to use in the development of new bioproducts.”
From research to practice
Some of the development paths related to bioproducts at Metsä Group are already taking shape in concrete, demonstration-scale industrial production.
“The joint venture between Metsä Spring, our innovation company, and Itochu, which is building a demo plant for the production of textile fibre at Äänekoski, is an excellent example of the functional development path of a new bioproduct. New pulp-based textile fibre provides a resource efficient and sustainable alternative to cotton and oil-based materials,” says Pehu-Lehtonen.
Another good example of both bioproducts based on pulp fibre and partnerships is Aqvacomp’s biocomposite plant, which operates in the mill area of Metsä Group’s Rauma pulp mill. The plant converts pulp into biocomposites, which can replace plastic in the electronics and car industries, among others. Metsä Fibre has also found modern solutions for improving the company’s own resource efficiency in bioproducts.
“The production of sulphuric acid and product gas from bark at the Äänekoski bioproduct mill represent methods that significantly improve the mill’s resource efficiency. The production of sulphuric acid is a great way to expand the closed chemicals cycle by exploiting odorous gases, while the production of product gas enables fossil-free operations. ”
Pehu-Lehtonen says that the new data and know-how accumulated from the bioproduct mill’s cutting-edge solutions is also actively used at Metsä Fibre’s other production units.
“Resource-smart solutions are the direction we’re heading in when planning new investments, in terms of both equipment and our products.”