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VTT leads industry and research project for “emission-free” pulping

#VTT leads industry and research project for “emission-free” pulping

18 Jan 2024 — Stakeholders of the forest industry, technology companies, research organizations and universities, employing around 20 full-time researchers, have joined forces to “revolutionize” traditional pulping processes, decreasing carbon emissions and reducing water usage.

The Emission Free Pulping research program runs under the joint leadership of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.

The program intends to improve energy efficiency, enhance the effectiveness of wood usage and conversion to products, achieve emission-free pulping (mainly carbon dioxide emissions) and reduce water usage in the processes.

The Emission Free Pulping program aims to reduce biomass burning and increase the product yield of wood material used for pulping from approximately 50% to around 70%. It is projected to have a budget of approximately €15 million (US$16 million) over the next five years.

Atte Virtanen, vice president of biomaterial processing and products at VTT, says that the growth opportunities for the pulping industry are constrained due to the limited nature of forest resources. “Moreover, the burning of biomass in the pulping process results in the emission of biogenic CO2. To significantly enhance resource efficiency and increase the value added from wood, revising the chemical processes and unit operations used in the pulping process is essential.”

Piled up wood pieces.Chemical processes and unit operations used in the pulping process must be revised for better resource efficiency, explains Virtanen (Image credit: Stora Enso).Industry and research unite
So far, five industrial companies have committed to the program, and they will bring in their knowledge about industrial relevance and operations as well as financial contribution. Andritz, Arauco, Metsä Group, Stora Enso and Valmet have committed to a five-year collaboration with the research organizations and universities for this program. The program has been granted funding from Business Finland, amounting to over €5 million (US$5.4 million) over three years.

Executive director Timo Metsä-Tokila from government agency Business Finland says: “Long-term research cooperation between companies, research organizations and universities is essential for solving major sustainability challenges. With the financing of this joint project, we want to speed up the renewal of the forest industry, which is of paramount importance for Finland’s competitiveness.”

Katariina Kemppainen, SVP of R&D at Metsä Group, adds that the key to achieving a thriving ecosystem lies in fostering innovation and coming together as an industry and research ecosystem.

“By combining our efforts, we can drive advancements that not only enhance efficiency but also uphold our commitment to environmental stewardship. It’s about creating a future where sustainable wood use and more resource-efficient pulping methods go hand in hand, ensuring the longevity and prosperity of our forests and the industries dependent on them.”

The expertise and knowledge being developed will be internationally groundbreaking, and the program’s sought-after results are expected to have wide-ranging effects.

Mikael Hannus, senior vice president for Group Innovation R&D at Stora Enso, says: “We celebrate that other companies and universities share our view on the necessity to use science and joint research for enabling significant improvement of the material yields from pulping and thereby reducing emissions. Can we reach zero? Let’s see what academia and industry develop together, based on science, knowledge and inclusion of industrial realities from start to end in the program.”

Setting new benchmarks
Strong commitment from leading universities in Finland and Sweden creates the conditions for the success of the project. The project involves significant contributions from Aalto University, Chalmers University of Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, LUT University, Mid Sweden University, University of Helsinki, University of Oulu and Åbo Akademi University.

Finnish public funding enables hiring the initial group of scientists, which will be expanded with further funding from the companies involved. The goal is to form a group of 10-20 researchers focusing full-time on advancing the research agenda collectively agreed upon by the consortium.

Public funding is also currently being sought in Sweden, and doors are open to new corporate partners.

“The key to success lies in open collaboration. This is why we invite industry leaders and scientists from around the world to join our consortium, participating in spearheading research that aims to transform pulping processes for better energy and material efficiency,” says Per Tomani, director of Research & Business Development at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.

“The challenge is common to the entire industry — no one can solve it alone. Technology plays one key role in the evolution of the pulp and paper industry. This transformation is not just about meeting industry standards — it’s about setting new benchmarks for environmental responsibility and operational excellence. The focus needs to remain on innovation and collaboration to drive this vital change in the industry,” concludes Johan Engström, chief technology officer at Andritz.

By Natalie Schwertheim

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