Finnish state-owned energy company Fortum and forest industry specialist Metsä Group has joined forces with Business Finland to create what they describe as a world-class R&D programme with pulp fibre from renewable and sustainable sources as its node.
The four-year joint R&D programme, called ExpandFibre, aims to develop ground-breaking technologies and smart business concepts that are required to convert straw and wood pulp fibre into novel bioproducts, such as textile fibres. The R&D programme has been granted €20 million from Business Finland.
ExpandFibre will be part of a global innovation ecosystem, according to Fortum. The ExpandFibre partners Fortum and Metsä Group want to encourage the members of the ecosystem to significantly accelerate their efforts within the circular bioeconomy. Members of the ecosystem can apply for financing from Business Finland or from the EU.
In addition to production and export of physical bioproducts, such as pulp, paper, board, and solid wood products, Finland is also known for having one of the highest standards in terms of biomass management, for its technology suppliers, and its education curriculum, as well as for its engineering and R&D services. According to Fortum, ExpandFibre builds on this profound knowledge platform with a mission to provide selected markets with new, high-volume bioproducts that have a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to similar (but fossil-based) products available today.
“We are excited to enter into this innovative partnership through ExpandFibre and are looking forward to a mutually rewarding cooperation within the whole ecosystem. With this setup, Fortum (@Fortum) will continue building on its pioneering bioproducts vision: bringing residual straw raw material into industrial processing and further into environmentally friendly materials and chemicals. Our aim is to develop high-value end-products from all the main components of straw – cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin,” said Risto Sormunen, Head of Bio2X Development at Fortum.
“Metsä Group is firmly rooted in the sustainably managed Finnish forests. Finding new, added-value applications for pulp fibre obtained from our Northern wood is a key R&D target for the group. We are thrilled to partner up with Business Finland and Fortum in the ExpandFibre programme and we are very much looking forward to co-creating new technologies and concepts within the partnership and as part of the larger innovation ecosystem,” said Niklas von Weymarn, CEO of Metsä Group’s (@MetsaGroup) innovation company Metsä Spring.
ExpandFibre is a innovative collaboration scheme to be launched during the summer of 2020 and extending until August 2024. The programme focuses on seven research themes:
- Packaging materials
- Other new fibre products
The value chains of interest to the ExpandFibre programme are all based on renewable and sustainable raw materials, namely straw and Northern wood. Importantly, ExpandFibre is challenging other actors of related value chains to accelerate their efforts in building a world-leading innovation ecosystem together and, subsequently, enabling new bioproducts and green businesses to reach commercial maturity.