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Inside Metsä Group's Äänekoski Bioproduct Mill

MARK RUSHTON

Editor's note: This article is an excerpt from a feature in the forthcoming Nov/Dec 2018 issue of Paper360°. It is offered here as a "Sneak Peek" for Ahead of the Curve readers. Visit www.paper360.tappi.org for the complete issue.

One thing that cannot be ignored when driving around Finland is the sheer number of trees— they are everywhere. In fact, 75 percent of the country is covered in forests, with only 7 percent of the land being used for other agriculture. So, if you are in the forest products industry, that means a lot of raw material—or to put it another way, a lot of renewable, sustainable, biomaterial.


Metsä Group's Äänekoski bioproduct mill is already deriving 20 percent of its revenue from bioproducts other than pulp.

The "bioeconomy" is a relatively new model for industry and the economy and it is really catching on as a concept in this part of the world. The European Commission defines bioeconomy as "the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value added products, such as food, feed, bio-based products, and bioenergy." Overall the bioeconomy is worth EUR2,300 billion (US$2,707 billion) in the EU alone, employing some 22 million people.

Metsä Group is at the forefront of innovation in the industry in northern Europe. At TAPPI's 2018 PaperCon, held in Charlotte, NC, Ismo Nousiainen, CEO of Metsä Fibre, informed the assembled delegates about the group's strategy during the Executive Panel Discussion. "At Metsä Group we face the global trends head-on that are impacting consumption. We work on solutions directly associated with these megatrends—namely climate change, population growth, and aging populations. In the case of climate change, for instance, we are examining all of our processes and products, looking at ways to replace those with fossil fuels, in packaging for example," he said.

"Added to this, in our own processes we are completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels—as in our latest start-up, the Äänekoski bioproduct mill—as well as looking at all sorts of other bioproducts that go along with the pulp mill."

Bioproduct Mill/Showcase for the Industry
Metsä Group's Äänekoski bioproduct mill has become something of a showcase for the industry, attracting interest from all over the globe. Ilkka Poikolainen, vice president of the bioproduct mill, says, "Since the start-up last August, the concept of the bioproduct mill has got a lot of attention, and we are receiving something like 20,000 visitors a year here, from customers to school groups to forest owners to international industry associations and representatives of government ministries. As mill manager, I have met more stakeholders from the industry than ever.

"At the core of the bioproduct mill is the world's most efficient pulp mill as well as an increasing network of companies manufacturing various types of bioproducts from the side streams created," he says. "There are a lot of different activities going on at the mill."

The "world's most efficient pulp mill" Poikolainen refers to is indeed impressive in its efficiency and environmental achievements. The mill is self-sufficient in energy to the tune of 240 percent. This means that it exports 140 percent of the 1.8 TWh it generates to the Finnish national grid, providing 2.5 percent of the nation's energy.

"Even better than that, this 2.5 percent is green energy from production sidestreams," adds Poikolainen. "This bioproduct mill has increased the share of renewable energy in Finland by more than two percentage points."

The mill was started up on August 15, 2017, seven minutes ahead of schedule and within budget. The start-up phase has progressed in line with the target curve.

Just over a year in, the mill is now running at full capacity, producing around 800,000 tpy of softwood pulp and 500,000 tpy of hardwood pulp for a total of 1.3 million tpy. Poikolainen says, "The mill is now running at full speed and I am proud to say that we achieved the mill's nominal capacity in August, 2018. This makes Metsä Group the world's largest producer of softwood market pulp. Our mill produced its millionth ton of pulp on August 8th, 2018."

Bioproducts are the Future
The bioproduct mill is already deriving 20 percent of its revenue from bioproducts other than pulp. This of course includes a lot of exported energy, but there are also new areas where the mill is already producing valuable bioproducts from its side streams. Poikolainen explains, "As well as energy, we are producing product gas and sulfuric acid from the mill's ecosystem. We are also producing conventional biochemicals such as tall oil, turpentine, and methanol. Another good example of side stream utilization is via a partner we have on the site who is using our waste water treatment plant sludge to make pellets and to produce biogas."

There are a few other exciting areas Metsä Group is pursuing in the areas of side streams, particularly in the utilization of lignin, which is increasingly being seen as a valuable raw material for the manufacture of all sorts of biochemicals and biomaterials.

[Please read the full article in the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of Paper360°.]

Author info:
Mark Rushton is senior editor, Europe and Asia, for Paper360°. Reach him at [email protected].

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