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UPM to invest EUR 550 million in industrial-scale biorefinery in Germany

Finland-headed forest industry major UPM has announced that it will take the "next transformative growth step" and enter the biochemicals business by investing EUR 550 million in an industrial-scale biorefinery in Leuna, Germany. The biorefinery will produce a range of 100 percent wood-based biochemicals that enable a switch from fossil raw materials to sustainable alternatives in various consumer-driven end-uses.

UPM will invest EUR 550 million in an industrial scale biorefinery in Leuna, Germany to convert solid wood into next-generation biochemicals: bio-monoethylene glycol (BioMEG) and lignin-based renewable functional fillers. In addition, the biorefinery will produce bio-monopropylene glycol (BioMPG) and industrial sugars. The total annual capacity of the biorefinery will be 220 000 tonnes. The facility is scheduled to start up by the end of 2022 (photo courtesy UPM).

According to a statement on January 30, 2019, UPM will invest EUR 550 million in an industrial scale biorefinery to convert solid wood into next-generation biochemicals: bio-monoethylene glycol (BioMEG) and lignin-based renewable functional fillers. In addition, the biorefinery will produce bio-monopropylene glycol (BioMPG) and industrial sugars.

The total annual capacity of the biorefinery will be 220 000 tonnes. The facility is scheduled to start up by the end of 2022.

The product range offers unique customer value and is expected to achieve a good cost position, comparable to the fossil-based alternatives. Once the facility is fully ramped up and optimized, it is expected to achieve the return on capital employed (ROCE) target of 14 percent.

Molecular bioproducts form one of UPM’s three strategic focus areas for growth and are at the core of innovating for a future beyond fossils. We have successfully entered the biofuels business and built a profitable business platform. Now we are creating a totally new sustainable business in biochemicals with large growth potential. This is another major milestone in UPM’s transformation and a great showcase of focused and efficient R&D. We help our customers to make their businesses more sustainable. Currently, the supply of biochemicals is very limited. Due to this, high-quality sustainable alternatives are priced at a premium in the markets said Jussi Pesonen, President, and CEO of UPM.

A combination of sustainable wood supply, unique technology concept, integration into existing infrastructure at Leuna as well as the proximity to customers will ensure the competitiveness of operations. The safety and sustainability of the value chain will be based on UPM’s “high standards”.

Attractive growth markets

Application areas for bio-monoethylene glycol include textiles, PET bottles, packaging, and deicing fluids. Bio-monopropylene glycol is used for example in composites, pharma, cosmetics, and detergents. The global glycols market represents more than 30 million tonnes in size and is expected to grow annually approximately by 4 percent.

Currently, the market supply is practically all based on fossil raw materials: oil, natural gas, and coal.

Lignin-based renewable functional fillers are used in different rubber applications as a sustainable alternative to carbon black and silica. The global market for carbon black and silica combined is more than 15 million tonnes with an expected annual growth of approximately 3 percent.

UPM’s planned hardwood biorefinery in Leuna, Germany will also produce lignin-based renewable functional fillers as an alternative to carbon black and silica for which the global market volume is over 15 million tonnes (photo courtesy UPM).

Besides climate benefits, UPM’s new renewable functional fillers will provide additional benefits such as lighter weight and high purity.

We are truly excited to provide the customers with world-class sustainable solutions. Renewable raw material and new technologies enable a significant improvement in carbon footprint compared to fossil-based products. We can also take pride in creating an entirely European value chain, thus being a sustainable local producer. Furthermore, our products fit directly into our customers’ existing processes and the recycling infrastructure. These aspects are important for brand owners and their businesses and pave the way for a holistic circular economy, said Juuso Konttinen, Vice President, UPM Biochemicals.

Leuna an ideal location

Being the European center for chemical industry excellence and located in the middle of the markets, Germany provides an attractive location for the biorefinery. InfraLeuna GmbH, in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, offers very competitive conditions for constructing a biorefinery with its existing permitting processes, logistics arrangements, and infrastructure for various services and utilities.

UPM plans to enter service agreements related to wood handling, wastewater treatment and other utilities that will be recognised as lease assets and liabilities under IFRS 16 Leases. Depending on the final agreement the total amount of such lease assets and liabilities is estimated to be EUR 40-100 million.

The investment is in line with Germany’s bioeconomy strategy and supports the goal of increasing the responsible utilisation of the commercial forests. The availability of sustainably sourced hardwood in the region is good. Wood sourcing will be based on forest thinnings and residues of regional sawmills.

The engineering and planning are on-going and the tendering for the main equipment, recruitment for the project and permitting process will start immediately. Permitting will proceed parallel to the investment project in line with German legislation.

As a result of the announcement, UPM increases the estimate for total capital expenditure in 2020 to EUR 1.3 billion.

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