Metsä Spring Oy, the innovation and venture capital arm of Finnish forest industry major Metsä Group and compatriot forest industry and energy technology provider Valmet Oyj have decided to continue the development collaboration related to 3D fibre products. The duo will jointly invest approximately EUR 20 million in a new R&D project, which includes a greenfield pilot plant to be built on Metsä Group’s bioproducts mill site in Äänekoski, Finland.
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The technology applied in the pilot plant converts wet wood pulp into final 3D fibre products without any intermediate steps. In other words, the new environmentally-friendly 3D fibre products are ready to be shipped to end customers as such. When operational, the pilot plant is estimated to employ 10 staff.
Our objective is to develop a novel wood-based 3D fibre product, which can replace, for instance, packages made out of fossil raw materials. The pre-study phase with Valmet was a success. We have thus decided to accelerate the pace of development by constructing a pilot plant. I believe that our possibilities for developing a new significant added-value product for the Finnish forest industry are good, said Jarkko Tuominen, Head of the project at Metsä Spring.
The main raw material used to make the new products are renewable, sustainably-grown and pure Finnish wood fibre. The 3D fibre products are recyclable. However, in the case of recycling is not possible, the material decomposes also biologically.
Maximising the energy and raw material efficiencies and minimising the distribution chain logistics are enabled by the light structure of the material and by new manufacturing technology.
As a technology leader, Valmet brings unique technology and product development capabilities to this joint development project. This collaboration project with Metsä Spring is an excellent opportunity to develop totally new solutions that support sustainability, said Petri Rasinmäki, Head of the Board and Paper Machines Technology Unit at Valmet.
Construction start 2020
The short-term goal of the project is to develop a novel durable, environmentally-friendly and easy-to-use food package. Based on a recent customer survey, products like this are in high demand on the market, and the demand will grow further in the future. The aim is set for high volume market segments.
The construction of the pilot plant at Metsä’s Äänekoski Bioproduct Mill will begin in the autumn of 2020 and the pilot plant is expected to be ready for operation by the end of 2021. The pilot plant will be used for the continued development of both the manufacturing technology and the 3D fibre product.
If the pilot plant phase validates the concept as sound, the next step would be the construction of a commercial plant in the following years. Such a plant would be built in Finland. The pilot plant phase is part of the “ExpandFibre” circular bioeconomy R&D programme announced by Fortum and Metsä Group in June.