More biochemicals for growing demand

The growing bioeconomy needs more crude tall oil and crude turpentine as feedstock . In the future, Metsä Fibre’s Kemi bioproduct mill will annually supply the market with an additional 50,000 tonnes of biochemicals.
  • Articles
  • |
  • |
  • 2023, Biochemicals, Pulp

The use of crude tall oil and crude turpentine, generated in connection with pulp production, is increasing sharply.

“Demand now exceeds supply many times over,” says Katja Salmenkivi, Sales Director for Metsä Fibre’s biochemicals.

Growth in global demand is driven by two things. First, the use of fossil raw materials must be reduced, so many sectors of industry need more renewable and recyclable bio-based raw materials. Second, crude tall oil (CTO) and crude sulphate turpentine (CST) are extremely versatile raw materials for the chemical industry and can be refined into a variety of products.

“Crude tall oil and crude turpentine are organic compounds that can be used for pretty much anything. What you ultimately produce is dictated by the potential demand for the product, and whether you can achieve adequate industrial efficiency in the process,” says Salmenkivi.

Like crude oil but renewable

Just like fossil crude oil, tall oil and turpentine are a mixture of molecules that can be distilled to obtain various fractions for different purposes.

Crude tall oil is refined into fatty acids, rosin acids, sterols and so on. These are used to replace fossil materials in many industrial processes and products. Crude tall oil is also made into biofuels.

Tall oil is used in products such as paints, soaps, adhesives, lubricants, and coatings. Metsä Fibre’s pulp customers use adhesives containing tall oil in paperboard production to glue different layers together.

Crude turpentine is also processed through distillation. Turpentine itself is a widely used bio-based solvent. It can be found in detergents, flavourings, and fragrances, for example. In the rubber industry, turpentine is used to improve the flexibility of rubber.

Only non-edible raw materials allowed

Biochemicals made of Nordic wood do well in sustainability comparisons of different raw materials. Sustainable forest management ensures forests are renewed and that they bind carbon while growing. In contrast to many other bio-based raw materials, trees do not require separate land area or take agricultural land from food.

The EU is working to apply the cascading principle to biochemicals. It requires natural resources to be used and recycled for as long as possible and allocated to the most valuable purposes possible.

“While the legislation is not yet complete, the goal is clear. In the future, non-edible biomaterial will be preferred feedstocks for use in fuel production or for other industrial purposes. This points to continued growth in the demand for pine-based raw materials and biochemicals,” says Leela Landress Perez.

Perez is Global Editor for the Oleochemicals & Pine Chemicals team at Argus Media. She has been working as a market analyst focusing on pine-based chemicals for more than 13 years.

Biochemicals help our customers to promote the bioeconomy, replace fossil raw materials with renewable compounds, and develop new sustainable products and solutions.

Biochemicals’ share of sales to rise significantly

Biochemicals play an important role in Metsä Fibre’s strategy. The company is committed to using wood as efficiently as possible. Pulp production side streams are upgraded into raw materials for products that generate sustainable growth.

“Biochemicals help our customers to promote the bioeconomy, replace fossil raw materials with renewable compounds, and develop new sustainable products and solutions,” says Mikael Lagerblom, in charge of European Sales at Metsä Fibre.

Metsä Fibre produces Metsä Crude Tall Oil (CTO) and Metsä Crude Sulphate Turpentine (CST) at Äänekoski bioproduct mill and its pulp mills in Rauma, Joutseno and Kemi. The mills’ production volume totals about 100,000 tonnes per year. The company is Europe’s largest producer of pine-based biochemicals. Metsä Fibre is now preparing for an increase in the demand for biochemicals.

“In 2021, biochemicals accounted for five per cent of our sales. We now aim to increase this share significantly,” says Lagerblom.

Future growth is made possible by the new bioproduct mill under construction in Kemi. The new Kemi mill will increase the overall production of CTO and CST by 50,000 tonnes. It will be the most efficient wood-processing mill in the northern hemisphere. Apart from pulp, it can produce around four per cent of the pine-based biochemicals needed by global markets.

Research in new biochemicals

History was partly the reason for crude tall oil and crude turpentine being chosen as the main biochemical products, says Salmenkivi.

“These chemicals have been used for decades. At first they were just burned in the recovery boiler to generate energy. Then the end-use market began developing around them and they started to be used as chemical intermediates. As sustainability grew in importance, tall oil and turpentine became increasingly important commercial products,” she says.

“Previously, the problem was how to get rid of tall oil and turpentine. Now, the challenge is how to produce enough of them.”

Some of the new bioproducts are needed to achieve fossil free production at pulp mills. Tall oil pitch, extracted from tall oil, can be used in emergencies as a fossil free supportive fuel in the recovery boiler and lime kiln.

The primary fuel for Metsä Fibre’s Kemi bioproduct mill’s lime kilns will be fossil free product gas made by gasifying bark. The company’s Äänekoski and Joutseno mills will also use bark-based product gas to fuel their lime kilns.

Sustainably produced biochemicals will certainly be in demand in the coming years.

New solutions created with partners

In biochemicals, just as in pulp and sawn timber, Metsä Group supplies the basic raw material.

“We do not upgrade the products. Instead, we conclude partnerships with companies that refine biochemicals and thus create jobs and promote sustainability,” says Lagerblom.

Some of the partners have joined Metsä Fibre’s industrial ecosystem. One of them is Veolia, which is constructing a biomethanol production unit alongside Äänekoski bioproduct mill. Biomethanol can be used as a component for biofuels suitable for transport use.

Veolia’s raw material is crude sulphate methanol, generated in the pulp production process. The production unit is now under construction. Production is expected to begin in 2024.

Despite the rapid growth rate, Metsä Fibre and its partners are still in the early stages of bioproduct use, Lagerblom says.

“Sustainably produced biochemicals will certainly be in demand in the coming years, and we need more partners who can upgrade new end products. The pulp industry is sometimes thought to be conservative, but pulp production actually facilitates new product ideas such as those based on biochemicals.”

This article was originally published in Fibre Magazine issue 2022–2023.

Metsä Crude Tall Oil (CTO)

  • Source: pine, spruce, and birch
  • Divided into three components: tall oil fatty acids (TOFA), rosins and sterols

Metsä Crude Sulphate Turpentine (CST)

  • Source: pine and birch

  • Composed of volatile substances, mainly terpene fractions and distillates

In this article


Katja Salmenkivi
Metsä Fibre’s Sales Director, biochemicals in Wiesbaden. She has a background in chemical engineering and has worked in the forest industry for nearly 25 years.



Leela Landress Perez
Global Editor for the Oleochemicals & Pine Chemicals team at Argus Media. She is the founder of Oleo-chemicals Analytics, a market research and intelligence company that focuses solely on renewable chemicals produced around the world.



Mikael Lagerblom
Metsä Fibre's VP Sales, Europe in Wiesbaden, Germany. He has worked in the pulp industry for nearly 30 years.