Pulp inspiration: Finnish companies accelerate the circular revolution
From inspirational startups to industry leaders, Finnish companies are busy creating the smart processes, renewable materials and revolutionary products that are accelerating the development of the circular economy at a global level. Often working closely with Finnish universities and research institutions, these companies are at the forefront of the quest for a more sustainable future.
Resource efficiency and recycling is one of the main circular economy business models and forest-rich Finland has produced many innovations based on wood biomass or pulp in recent years. Finland's traditionally strong forest industry has become a major player in the development of the bio- and circular economy.
Bioproducts from pulp production side streams
"Crucially, the big pulp and paper companies understood the need to renew and expand their business in the early 2000s. This transformation process has steered them on completely new paths and also created new startups, providing a significant boost for the circular economy," explains Pia Qvintus, Technology manager at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Senior Program partner of the Business Finland Bio and Circular Finland Program.
For example, Metsä Group's bioproduct mill in Äänekoski is the world's largest wood-processing plant, producing pulp and converting side streams into tall oil, turpentine, bioelectricity, product gas, sulphuric acid and biogas. It is also at the heart of the Plänet B ecosystem in which Metsä Group and Japan's Itochu Corporation are building a demo plant for converting wet paper-grade pulp into textile fibres.
Wood-based textiles will transform clothing industry
Leading Finnish energy company Fortum is also active in the circular economy. Fortum's Bio2X biorefinery produces high-value products from agro-residues and woody biomass using fractionation technologies. Fortum is also working with Infinited Fibre Company and Spinnova – two Finnish startups that have the potential to transform the cotton-hungry clothing industry.
Infinited Fiber Company has developed a process technology for turning cotton rich textile waste into new fibers that can be recycled again and again without decreasing the quality of the fiber. The company recently raised EUR 3.7 million from investors that include global fashion retailer H&M Group. Spinnova's unique production method converts pulp directly into textile fiber, using 99% less water than cotton production, without chemical solvents, and with zero waste streams. A fabric made with Spinnova fiber can be reused, recycled or composted.
"We believe strongly in the growth of these pulp-based textiles in the global markets," says Qvintus.
Sustainable packaging is here
With plastic waste filling the oceans, the need for biodegradable packaging is one the urgent global issues tackled by Finnish companies. Award-winning Paptic is replacing paper and plastic in packaging with a completely new material made from wood fiber that offers high print quality and durability.
Sulapac is another Finnish packaging innovator with its biodegradable and microplastic-free material made of FSC-certified wood chips and natural binders, which has already attracted the French luxury house Chanel as an investor. Wood-based packaging material Woodly is also a totally new solution that can be used to substitute plastics. Woodly is transparent and can be used instead of traditional synthetic packaging films.
"It is easy for manufacturers, retailers and brands to shift from plastic packaging to the new materials created by Woodly and Sulapac because they don't need to change their existing machinery," Qvintus notes.
Clean and healthy construction materials
Another Finnish pulp-based innovation is the sprayed, seamless coating developed by Lumir which improves acoustics by reducing reverberation. It can be easily installed on indoor walls and ceilings in homes, public spaces, schools, offices and shops as well as new build and restoration projects.
Wall+ has created a new generation of solid and tinted wood composite wall panels that are easily installed and create a unique look for all interior spaces. The attractively designed panels are waterproof and can be painted, so they can also be used instead of ceramic tiles in kitchens and bathrooms.
"For more inspiration from Finland, it is well worth exploring the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra's website and its list of the The most interesting companies in the circular economy," says Qvintus.
pia.qvintus (at) businessfinland.fi
Tel. +358 50 563 4129