The record mill

The massive process of constructing Metsä Fibre's pioneering bioproduct mill is an impressive feat of project management.
TEXT: TIMO NYKÄNEN, PHOTO: METSÄ FIBRE

In April 2015 Metsä Fibre finally gave the go ahead for building its new bioproduct mill at Äänekoski in Central Finland. Preliminary planning of this carefully prepared initiative began back in 2013, and the project was formally announced in April 2014. It took a year for the company’s senior management to study and approve the associated investment proposal. Construction work then began immediately with a view to bringing the new facility on stream by the end of summer 2017.

“The overall schedule is fairly tight, but by no means exceptional. Admittedly the conditions are a bit more challenging than on a standard greenfield project, as the new mill will become part of an integrated industrial site that already includes fully operational pulp, paperboard and chemical manufacturing facilities,” explains bioproduct mill Project Director Timo Merikallio.

He stresses the importance of harmonising the construction project and the adjacent ongoing industrial operations. The precise boundaries of the available 100-acre site are another unusual factor calling for particularly careful project planning and forecasting.

“We are acutely conscious that this is a major construction project, even by global standards, and by far the largest undertaken so far in Finland, but with so many highly experienced project specialists involved, there can hardly be any aspects that we have not previously encountered,” Merikallio adds.

He can also rely on substantial professional experience of his own, having originally joined the operation then known as Metsä Botnia at Äänekoski in 1986. His career finally brought him back to this site in 2013 after a spell as manager of the company’s mill in Rauma, Southwest Finland. Merikallio was also involved in preliminary design work on the fibre line for Finland’s last pulp mill construction project at Joutseno in 2001.


A local landmark

Timo Merikallio explains that the first stage of the construction work began when the mill area was fenced off in May. This was followed by basic site preparation work, pile driving, and casting of the foundations for the mill chimney.

“The chimney will be nearly 400 feet high and 40 feet in diameter. Erecting the slipcast concrete chimney will already be an impressive feat, and will provide the first prominent sign of this construction work that can be seen from outside the mill site by the late summer. A temporary wood yard constructed outside the current mill site fence will also be visible locally.”

The mill will be an industry benchmark

Merikallio explains that the building construction phase will continue into the first half of 2016, and will then be followed by plant installation work until early 2017. The third project phase will comprise test operation of the new mill with a view to finally coming on stream in August 2017.



Timo Merikallio, Project Director, Bioproduct mill, Metsä Fibre

Promoting renewable energy

Metsä Fibre has agreed the plant and building design of the new bioproduct mill with Sweco Industry Ltd and Sweco Structures Ltd. These companies will collaborate on the project together with Neste Jacobs Oy. The main suppliers of industrial plant for the new mill will be Valmet Corporation and Andritz Oy, with Valmet supplying the recovery boiler, pulp drying line, lime kiln, bark gasification plant and automation system, and Andritz delivering the fibre line and wood processing, evaporation and causticising plants.

“We have yet to agree on delivery of such plant as the electricity generating turbine and certain solutions for treating wastewater and manufacturing process chemicals,” Merikallio reports.

The recovery boiler and lime kiln will be among equipment solutions applying entirely new and advanced forms of energy technology that will help to make the bioproduct mill the world’s most energy-efficient, entirely fossil fuel-free pulp manufacturing facility. As a major promoter of energy efficiency, the Äänekoski project also qualified for a renewable energy investment subsidy of just over 32 million euros from the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy in April 2015.

“It was already obvious at the early pre-planning stage that this would be much more than a mere pulp mill. The idea is to build a paradigm example of efficiency in the use of energy and resources, and to find bioproducts that enable us to extract higher added value from raw materials than in a conventional facility,” Merikallio explains."


An Important source of employment

One motivation for the bioproduct mill project was steady growth in global sales of market softwood pulp, especially in the Far East. Global demand for pulp stood at about 23 million tonnes in 2011, and is forecast to reach about 25 million tonnes by 2017.

Investing in capacity to serve the buoyant softwood pulp market will boost the growth prospects of Metsä Fibre and improve the company’s long-term viability. The location in Central Finland is also ideal for ensuring access to high quality raw materials, with the region’s logistic networks already in place.

The bioproduct mill will create some 6,000 jobs during the construction stage

The bioproduct mill will create some 6,000 jobs during the construction stage, followed by a sustained positive employment impact of more than 2,500 jobs in the overall value chain after the new facility comes on stream. The new mill will have a staff of about 200 employees.

“The main local news for the Äänekoski area is that our new unit will ensure industrial jobs at our plant for the next 30 years, with new jobs largely arising in other districts where wood is harvested and transported,” Merikallio says.

He explains that the construction work has been divided into dozens of sub-projects that also provide employment opportunities for small and medium-sized local building contractors.

The bioproduct mill will also sustain a diverse range of specialised bioeconomy businesses creating and producing the wood-based bioproducts of the future. This promises substantial multiplier effects for the region, and for Finland as a whole.



Camilla Wikström, Mill Manager, Metsä Fibre Äänekoski

 

A smooth start


Camilla Wikström, the incumbent Mill Manager at Äänekoski, has been appointed to take charge of the new bioproduct mill as of 1 September 2015. Her responsibilities during the construction project will include establishing the operating format and organisation of the bioproduct mill, and managing public relations. Wikström joined Metsä Group in 2002, and has previously been responsible for customer service and R&D at the company.

“My main job at this stage is to manage resource planning, staff skills development and the establishment of an operating format for the new mill to ensure that we make the best possible start. Careful planning is essential in this start-up, because it will also involve shutting down the old operation,” Wikström explains.

The bioproduct mill will entirely replace the current pulp mill at Äänekoski, and Wikström will seek to implement the changeover with only a few days between shutting down the old facility and launching operations at the new one.

A common challenge

Relations with customers, stakeholders and society at large are particularly important in a project that will have a substantial impact on the entire national economy of Finland. Wikström explains that maintaining open communication channels with various parties will be a key aspect of her project duties.

“It has been gratifying to see how positively the project has been received and how willing everyone has been to participate. At the end of April, for example, we arranged a public event at the market square in Äänekoski to give local residents an opportunity to learn more about the project and to meet the people involved. Several hundred interested visitors also took the opportunity to join in tours of the mill area.”

Camilla Wikström will ensure the continued release of frank and timely public information throughout the project.

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