Biocomposite factory

Sustainable growth from biocomposites

The abundant annually regenerating forests of Finland place the country in pole position for promoting a bioeconomy based on the sustainable use of renewable natural resources. One example of a solution that reduces the need for fossil oil and polymers is an innovative biocomposite material developed by the Finnish companies Aqvacomp Oy and Elastopoli Ltd.

2017 TEXT: MARKKU NIKKILÄ, IMAGES: METSÄ GROUP

A new Aqvacomp production plant began operating this autumn at the Metsä Fibre pulp mill in Rauma, Southwest Finland, manufacturing biocomposites that use Botnia Nordic softwood pulp fibre to reinforce conventional polymer materials. These biocomposites have a much smaller carbon footprint than the traditional fibreglass used for corresponding purposes. The biocomposite manufacturer also enjoys a significant edge due to its location near the pulp mill, with the manufacturing process using wet cellulose fibre straight from the mill, resulting in a more homogeneous product and minimising energy consumption. The biocomposite plant can also use renewable electric power and heat generated by the pulp mill.

This biocomposite has the appearance and feel of wood, and provides an ecological alternative to oil-based plastics. The material is durable, lightweight and easily machined. It can be used instead of plastic in such products as consumer electronics and the automotive industry, and also in musical instrument manufacturing, which is the sector from which Elastopoli and Aqvacomp emerged.

Cellulose-based biocomposites could play a highly significant role in the materials of the future. They are already technically competitive with the fibreglass and mineral fibre-reinforced plastics that are used in such industries as automotive and electronics on a scale of millions of tonnes annually. It is now essential to increase output to a level at which the unit prices of these materials are equally competitive in large volume applications. Even though there is already a large market for biocomposites, the automotive and other industries are not yet ready to pay a premium for bio-features.

One concrete indication of the interest shown in these products is a partnership with the electronics giant LG. Elastopoli has developed a biocomposite speaker material for LG that is manufactured by Aqvacomp for use in the SJ 9 Soundbar speaker. Comparisons conducted by LG have demonstrated the excellent acoustic properties of the biocomposite. This partnership is not only an important commercial endorsement, but also gives the company valuable experience in working with a global brand.

The company’s main aim at the Rauma production plant is to demonstrate the industrial manufacturing and quality of Aqvacomp. A natural progression of taking output to the next level by working with the bioproduct mill at Äänekoski has already been discussed. The growing business ecosystem emerging around pulp manufacturing provides many opportunities and synergies, and Elastopoli is eager to stay involved in helping to promote the bio-sector and circular economy.



Markku Nikkilä                                                                                            
Managing Director
Elastopoli Ltd                                                                                                             
Markku Nikkilä

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