Sandwiched between Russia and Sweden, Finland is associated with a progressive education system, wild reindeer, bright Northern Lights, saunas and forests. In fact, Finland, is the most forested country in Europe with approximately 86% of its land area being covered with coniferous forests, a fact which lies behind the Finnish government’s commitment to ensure that forestry resources play a central role in meeting the country’s future renewables targets.
Overall, the bioeconomy across Scandinavia continues to be impressive as the different Nordic countries set increasingly ambitious targets for reducing their dependence on fossil fuels in their desire to limit future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As well as increasing their commitments to bioenergy, Scandinavian countries, including Finland, have made pledges to boost their production of bio-based materials.
Tampere, a city based in the south of Finland, has had a tradition of producing bioplastics and has one of the best technical universities in the country. It is also the home of one company that is leading the way in the development of biomaterials and aiming to be one of the major global players in the future of biomaterials. That company is called Arctic Biomaterials.
Arctic Biomaterials was established as a medical company making bioresorable implant materials. Implant products include surgical screws, anchors and pins, for example. In essence, the company’s material can resorb in the body. The company’s innovation is made of degradable glass fibre that can be used to reinforce resorbable plastics. The formulation of glass fibre tricks the body’s stem cells into thinking that it is bone. This in turn helps the body to create bone into the implant. The glass resorbs when in contact with human body fluid.
Arctic Biomaterials has spent years researching and developing this bioresorable technology in order to provide solutions to the medical device market. The company has been successful in commercialising its medical device technology that it started to branch out to the technical market in 2016 and develop a new composite material. This material is an award-winning PLA reinforced with degradable glass fibre that erodes back to harmless minerals in the composting environment.
The company says that its ABMcomposite technology offers high-performance degradable bio-based plastics and composites, which can be an alternative to many oil-based plastics, such as glass-reinforced polyamide (PA), polypropylene (PP), polycarbonates (PC), and polystyrene (PS). So, how does it work in practice? “Basically, it works so that the polymer protects the fibre. As long, as the polymer does not degrade, the fibre stays intact and has a similar strength to normal e-glass fibre. After the polymer has degraded, the fibre can degrade with humidity and temperature,” sales and marketing director Tomi Kangas tells Bio Market Insights.
The company also says its new composite materials, which consist of high-heat-resistant grades, can withstand temperatures of up to 155°C under load, thus making it suitable for use in many automotive and electronic applications. In fact, Arctic Biomaterials has attracted the attention of some large automotive and electronic industry players who are keen to use ABM’s material. In addition to this, sales are growing, more patents are being filed and certifications are being obtained, Kangas says.
“Last year, we certified our technical factory as an IS09001 certificate and we are looking to achieve 1S014000 certification next,” Kangas explains. “We have also built a fibre manufacturing unit in China and we are currently investing in compounding facilities in China. Our plan is to have the flexibility to supply our customers as near to them as possible. This not only reduces the carbon footprint, but also allows us to be faster and more flexible in supporting our customers.”
Another innovative material that Arctic Biomaterials has commercialised in 2019 is the MFA series. These PLA-based materials do not contain fibre but have been developed to stand fairly high temperature resistance, making the products suitable for dish washing and container transport. The beauty of these materials besides the temp resistance is the fast processing (no crystallisation time needed in the mould) and the fact that there is no need to use hot moulds.
Meeting customer demand is a key focal point for Arctic Biomaterials. “The industry has been very excited about this kind of new materials and the possibilities it gives our customers to decrease their carbon footprint for technically demanding applications,” Kangas explains. He also says that Arctic Biomaterials is currently developing new solutions and will hope to unveil these in the near future.
Perhaps the biggest challenge Arctic Biomaterials faces is getting traditional industries to accept the new solutions, which can be seen as disrupters. “Change is happening, but at a much lower pace than we expected. From a commercial point of view, the challenge has been in relation to the pricing of biomaterials that we use as raw materials. There is still a premium cost to these biomaterials when you compare them to oil-based materials such as PE or PP,” Kangas says. “We are proud to say that from technical perspective we have been able to offer our customers solutions to almost all projects presented to us.”
To garner more interest in Arctic Biomaterials’ technology, the company plans to supply the market with solutions that are sustainable and ones that future generations can enjoy. With its fibre technology, it is not bound to a single biopolymer, but can use any biopolymer where there is value in enhancing its properties. This paves the way for the company to becoming one of the biggest biopolymer compound and composite suppliers globally. And, as Kangas concludes: “We are at the beginning of our journey and are planning to reach the stars.”
This article was written by Liz Gyekye, deputy editor of Bio Market Insights.