University projects important for product development

​Universities and research institutions are important partners in innovation and product development processes. Cooperation is a two-way street that benefits both parties.
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  • 2022, Sustainability

Metsä Fibre cooperates with universities and research institutions to improve existing key products and processes, and to research and develop new products.

“Cooperation with universities and research institutions is important because it lets us work with top experts in the field. It builds on a shared understanding that we are working to solve sustainability challenges that affect all of society while also creating new competitive business in Finland. This motivates us to tackle tough challenges,” says Minna Hakalahti, Development Manager at Metsä Fibre.

Cooperation can take various forms. Metsä Fibre sometimes participates in joint research projects involving other companies and universities or research institutions, in which case the results can be used by all the parties involved. Sometimes it commissions confidential bilateral research, and some cooperation is carried out through theses.

“Research is organised as projects, which may be either long or short in duration. The goal is to benefit both parties.”

Research projects support one another, and synergies can be exploited.

“We expect our research partners to have the best possible competence and equipment environment. For example, we may obtain good results in the laboratory, but to test something on a larger scale, we need a suitable research infrastructure,” says Hakalahti.


Focus on sustainability

The development of new fibre-based bioproducts is one of the focal areas of cooperation. The University of Oulu is a long-term research partner in this field. Metsä Fibre and the University cooperate actively in the ExpandFibre innovation ecosystem launched by Metsä Group and Fortum, which focuses on upgrading pulp fibre obtained from wood and straw. Smaller-scale bilateral and collaborative research projects have also sprung up under the umbrella ecosystem.

“Corporate cooperation is extremely important for science and research. External sources account for more than 70 per cent of our research group’s funding, so collaborative research makes it possible for us to examine many different things. Without these projects, many studies would not advance,” says Professor Henrikki Liimatainen from the University of Oulu.

Liimatainen works in the University’s Fibre and Particle Engineering Research Unit, where his group studies new applications of lignocellulose and the use of green methods to modify cellulose fibres. To ensure smooth cooperation, the participants need to understand one another’s starting points and share the same values and goals. The research projects of Metsä Fibre and the University of Oulu emphasise themes related to sustainability.

“We and Metsä Fibre both want to influence sustainability and green future solutions. Close cooperation helps us translate our research into practical applications and products. It also gives us better insight into how general trends or the markets influence product development. For a researcher, it is a pleasure to see that your results spread beyond the academic community,” says Liimatainen.

The success of projects is measured by the results obtained.

“In the best case, our research projects produce results that boost our development work. Sometimes the results surprise us, but even unexpected results can improve our understanding of the research topic and promote the field as a whole,” says Hakalahti.

Supporting future competence

Cooperation with universities and research institutions is important for national and international networking and information sharing. Furthermore, high-quality research and education pave the way for the entire sector’s development.

Metsä Group also supports Finnish universities with donations. In December 2021, the Group donated EUR 500,000 jointly to its partner universities – the University of Helsinki and the University of Oulu. In the spring of 2022, Metsä Group made donations of EUR 160,000 to Aalto University, LUT University, Tampere University, Åbo Akademi, the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Eastern Finland. Depending on the university, the donations will be allocated to the fields of technology, natural sciences, agriculture and forestry.