Aiming for emission-free pulping: forestry industry and scientific community join forces

09 Feb 2024
  • Emission-free pulping
  • Forestry
  • Research programme
  • Sustainability
  • Wood usage

Thanks to the strong support from the forestry industry and public funding, 10 research organisations, universities and companies are establishing a groundbreaking research programme with around 20 full-time researchers.

The Emission-Free Pulping programme aims to significantly reduce biomass burning and increase the product yield of wood material used for pulping from approximately 50% to around 70%. The programme is projected to have a budget of around 15-million euros over the next five years.

The forest industry, technology companies, research organisations and universities have joined forces to revolutionise the traditional pulping processes under the joint leadership of VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and RISE Research Institutes of Sweden. The Emission-Free Pulping research programme intends to find ways to improve energy efficiency, enhance the efficiency of wood usage and conversion to products, achieve emission-free pulping (especially carbon dioxide emissions) and significantly reduce water usage in the processes.

‘Due to the limited nature of forest resources, growth opportunities for the industry are constrained. 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,’ says Atte Virtanen, Vice President of biomaterial processing and products at VTT.

So far, five industrial companies have committed to the programme, where they will bring in their industrial relevance and operations expertise, as well as to make a financial contribution towards the project. This commitment has led to a five-year collaboration with ANDRITZ, Arauco, Metsä Group, Stora Enso and Valmet, along with the research organisations and universities for this programme. The programme has been granted substantial funding from Business Finland, amounting to over 5-million euros over a three-year period.

‘Long-term research cooperation between companies, research organisations 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,’ explains Executive Director Timo Metsä-Tokila from Business Finland.

‘We are deeply committed to the vision of a thriving forest-based ecosystem that delivers the full value of Nordic wood. The key to achieving this lies in fostering innovation and coming together as an industry and as a 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,” adds Katariina Kemppainen, SVP Group R&D at Metsä Group.

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

‘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 programme,” says Mikael Hannus, Senior Vice President, Group Innovation R&D at Stora Enso.

International collaboration across sectors

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

The Finnish public funding enables the hiring of the initial group of scientists that 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 currently being sought also in Sweden, with doors being 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, CTO, ANDRITZ.

Companies involved are: ANDRITZ, Arauco, Metsä Group, Stora Enso, Valmet Universities and research institutions involved: VTT, RISE, Aalto University, Chalmers University of Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, LUT University, Mid Sweden University, University of Helsinki, University of Oulu, Åbo Akademi University.