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One month to go for PulPaper in Helsinki

Held once every four years in Helsinki, Finland, PulPaper is a leading trade event in the Nordic forest industry’s calendar. According to the organizers Messukeskus, the overall theme of the event is “Visit tomorrow today” – a reference to new innovations and technologies that the forest industry can harness to evolve in the digitalising world while respecting the environment. Given how forests are driving the Finnish (bio)economy, there will be a lot to look forward to.

In 2016, the bioeconomy made up 16 percent of the total output of, and of 12 percent of the value added to, Finland’s national economy. The fastest growth is found in renewables and chemicals according to figures published by Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).

In 2014, PulPaper had over 450 exhibitors and attracted 9 400 visitors (photo courtesy Messukeskus).

Thus PulPaper along with its concurrent events PacTec and Wood & Bioenergy that will be held in Helsinki at the end of next month, ought to be a reasonably good temperature gauge for the Finnish forest industries.

Held once every four years, the most recent edition was held in 2014. Four years on and it is no exaggeration to say that the Finnish forest industry is experiencing a transition and expansion period as the environmental impact and benefits of the sector become more widely known and appreciated, though not by all as last year’s Nordic-Baltic Bioenergy conference that was held in Helsinki also showed.

Nonetheless, a lot has happened in Finland since PupPaper 2014 – UPM’s Lappeenranta biofuels plant, Stora Enso’s lignin production at Sunila and Metsä Fibre’s Äänekoski bioproduct mill just to mention three. And three thematic topics is what the organisers are touting for PulPaper 2018.

“Environmental friendliness” as a competitive advantage

As the organisers, Messukeskus, point out, environmental standards and regulations are often seen as a burden on industry. However, “environmental friendliness”, presumably meant as low emissions beating regulatory limits, low carbon and water footprint, safe and socially responsible production etc are emerging as competitive advantages for companies. In other words, walking the talk.

The PulPaper Conference is putting the spotlight on many innovations that are revolutionising the whole industry. These include data-based sensors used in pulp industry wastewater treatment, a new catalytic bleaching method and the utilisation of industrial waste as an agricultural fertiliser. In addition, the conference will present a research project that seeks a breakthrough technology for chemical pulp production.

Sounds intriguing indeed. Hopefully, tech suppliers will be also be showcasing the industrial Internet of Things.

(Wood) fibre the future of packaging materials

The second thematic area is plastic or rather how wood and fibre can replace fossil-based plastic, the world’s dominant packaging material. Almost all sectors of industry have started using bioplastic: electronics, agriculture, textiles and healthcare. Wood and fibre are envisioned by the industry as the renewable raw material of the future, used in both packaging materials and textiles.

The PulPaper Conference will present solutions based on renewable wood materials to replace fossil-based materials. The current development of bioplastics will also be reviewed with examples from both Finnish and Swedish start-up companies.

3D printing of biomaterials

When it comes to printing materials, traditional paper and newsprint may be declining but the development of biomaterials opens up plenty of opportunities for new value-added uses of cellulose. 3D printing of biomaterials provides companies with a way to make cost-efficient customised products that save on materials and are environmentally sustainable and a seminar dedicated to 3D printing of biomaterials is also promised.

The PulPaper Conference will also deal with the use of forest biomass and the management of climate change. Speakers will address regulations related to the industry at the EU level and ponder the availability of biomass and related policies.

Forest chips, low-grade hardwood pulpwood and logging residues at a biomass terminal in southern Finland.

While Finland’s forest industry sector is bullish, to say the least, not everyone is happy. In particular, those in Brussels and Helsinki that oppose the use of (forest) biomass for energy, wanting legislated “cascading”, twig sizes and forests to essentially be left standing and used to pay a concept known as the (biogenic) carbon debt.

A legitimate concern in a time of forest industry and by default bioenergy expansions is over-exploitation. In other words, how much can the Finnish forest industry expand with new capacity before the annual allowable cut exceeds the annual increment of the national working forests available for industrial use? That is something to ponder over

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