Pulp lends itself to many things

​While we've known how to make pulp for over a hundred years now, its versatility keeps on surprising us. 

1/2020

What do shirts, speakers, toothpastes and mobile phone skins have in common? If you guessed wood, you're right. Pulp made from Finnish wood can be used in the production of all of the above mentioned products. But what is pulp, really?

"Pulp is the tissue of wood from which lignin, or the substance that ties the wood fibres together, has been removed. It's a composite made up of two elements – the amorphous and branched hemicellulose and the crystalline and strong cellulose," says Raili Koponen, Development Manager at Metsä Fibre.

Although Koponen has worked with pulp for her entire career, the material's versatility still amazes her.

"Pulp is an interesting material which can be used to make a huge variety of products."

It can replace plastic

One way to use pulp is to replace plastic with it. This is exactly what Aqvacomp, for one, is doing. Located next to Metsä Fibre's Rauma mill, Aqvacomp uses pulp fibre in the production of biocomposite.

Biocomposite is a composite material in which plastic is strengthened with long-fibred softwood pulp.

The material is light and durable, and it is used in the production of parts used in musical instruments, household appliances and vehicles, among other things.

Pulp fibre may account for as much as 70% of the end product. The product looks and feels like wood, and behaves like wood with sound. In terms of its workability, however, it is faster than wood: with injection moulding, a guitar's fretboard can be finished in a minute.

You can wear it

Koponen takes out a strip of black cloth. It feels soft and elastic to the touch. Very similar to cotton, but cotton it is not. Instead, it is Finnish softwood.

"People will need to wear clothes in the future too. Fibres are needed, but the production volumes of cotton can't increase," says Koponen.

If everything goes as planned, people in the future may well wear clothes sown from fibres made by Metsä Group. The production of textile fibres is expected to begin in the first half of 2020 at the Äänekoski demo plant of innovation company Metsä Spring and Itochu.

You can eat it

If you brushed your teeth this morning, chances are that you put pulp in your mouth. Or, to be precise, carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), converted from birch pulp.

CMC is produced by CP Kelco, located at Äänekoski and owned by the American Huber Company.  CMC is used as a stabiliser and bulking agent in foodstuffs, for example. In terms of its appearance, it resembles potato flour or semolina. Some juice manufacturers use CMC to give their product a rich texture similar to pure juice. The next time you buy orange juice in the store, take a look at its product information to see if you can find the E number E466. It may very well be there.

New uses are being discovered all the time

You don't need to browse the website of Chemarts – a collaboration between two Aalto University schools, The School of Chemical Engineering (CHEM) and The School of Arts, Design and Architecture (ARTS) – for long to realise that you can make just about anything out of pulp: conductive non-woven fabrics, sheets used for sound-proofing or paint binders, to mention just a few examples. Time will tell which innovations will end up in production and all the way up to the markets.

"Everything has to start from the customer and their need. Recyclability is a value when it comes to pulp-based products, but you also need to determine the value through euros," says Koponen.

In other words: As long as plastic is easy and cheap to use, it will be difficult for pulp-based products to push it off the market. Even so, the demand for biodegradable, bio-based and sustainably produced materials is growing continuously.

It's bulk – in the good sense

Considering how versatile a material pulp is, it is almost surprising how easily it is dismissed sometimes. It would quite all right to make grand pianos and houses from Finnish wood, but pulp is seen as a bulk product.

"Not all trees can be grown into logs.  According to the bioeconomy thinking, you want to use the entire tree, and pulp production gives pulpwood good added value. The chips generated as a by-product of sawing are also put to use in pulp production," says Koponen.

She adds that while pulp is a bulk product, it is that in a good sense. "A kraft pulp mill is a carefully fine-tuned process which yields pulp of a consistent quality from different kinds of wood. So in our case, a bulk product is not synonymous with a low-value product. Instead, the value lies precisely in the product's consistent quality."

It's part of the circular economy

In a pulp mill, the bioeconomy thinking mentioned by Koponen means that applications are also found for all side streams of production.

For a long time now, the chemical industry has converted crude turpentine and crude tall oil into various varnishes, paints, inks and solvents, but they also lend themselves to other uses. In its crude form, turpentine, which has a pungent smell, is used as a raw material by the perfume industry, for example, while the tar-like tall oil yields plant sterols and stanols, which are used in the manufacturing of cholesterol-lowering products.

When the lignin removed from fibres in the cooking process is burned as black liquor in the recovery boiler, it generates bioenergy. The Äänekoski bioproduct mill alone produces so much energy that it would be sufficient to heat 100,000 single-family houses.

The mill also converts wastewater sludge into biopellets, which are used for heat production by power plants. In the future, the sludge can also be used to produce biogas for the transport industry.

The Äänekoski bioproduct mill is already free of fossil fuels.

According to Koponen, the mill also aims to be waste-free in the future. "Waste-free and fossil-free. That has to be the goal at the mill as well as at home."


Just some of the products made from the side streams of pulp and pulp cooking are:

  • tableware, plastic-like products, textiles, biocomposites (from pulp)
  • fertilisers and earthwork materials (from ash)
  • laundry detergents and raw materials for glass production (from Glauber's salt)
  • adhesive products, composite plastics, transport fuels, consumer electronics (from lignin)
  • paints, car tyres, asphalt (from tall oil)
  • dyes, the bulking agents of foodstuffs, sausage casing materials, surface coatings of pharmaceuticals, varnishes (from biochemicals produced in the context of the pulp process)
  • renewable electricity, district heating (from black liquor)
  • product gas, bark mulch (from bark)
  • biopellets and biogas (from wood-based wastewater sludge)

Related articles

  • Walking in the woods

    5/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    University projects important for product development

    ​Universities and research institutions are important partners in innovation and product development processes. Cooperation is a two-way street that benefits both parties.

    Read More
  • Family-playing-game-on-wooden-terrace

    5/2022/ Sawn timber

    Pressure-impregnated wood for impressive and sustainable garden and patio structures

    ​In Europe, a comfortable garden with a patio is an essential part of a functional home. The trend is also catching on in the Nordic countries. The garden has become something people want to invest in.

    Read More
  • Gluelam beams modern building

    4/2022/ Sawn timber

    Metsä Fibre is the preferred supplier for Japanese glulam producers

    ​Glulam beams are used extensively by the Japanese building construction industry. Flexibility and durability make them ideal for earthquake-prone areas.

    Read More
  • Joutseno morning meeting

    4/2022/ Pulp

    Mill speed is planned together

    ​Metsä Fibre mills hold a daily morning meeting to get an overview of the situation at the mill. The meetings play an important role in mill management.

    Read More
  • Vilppula sawmill

    4/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Metsä Fibre adopts the 5S method

    ​In 2020, all Metsä Fibre sawmills and pulp mills began deploying the 5S method. It is a methodology for steering daily work that gradually turns common, proven practices into standardised operating methods. Work becomes faster, more efficient and more meaningful.

    Read More
  • Bohui papermill

    4/2022/ Pulp

    Bohui Paper seeks sustainable competitive advantages

    ​One of China’s top papermakers, Bohui Paper, sees new opportunities in the shift away from plastic. It credits Metsä Fibre with inspiring its pre-sale and post-sale service.

    Read More
  • Mount Kayasan

    3/2022/ Sawn timber

    Softwood suits Japanese post and beam

    ​The traditional architecture of Japan employs the wooden post and beam structure. This construction method is used in everything from small homes and tea ceremony houses to large temples and shrines.

    Read More
  • Kemi_Q1

    3/2022/ Pulp

    VIDEO: Bioproduct mill moving to the installation phase

    ​Pile driving and earthworks are nearly complete at Metsä Fibre’s Kemi bioproduct mill. The installation of concrete elements, laying of ground slabs and mechanical installations are widely underway. As spring progresses, more and more of the site will move to the installation phase.

    Read More
  • Rauma_Q1

    3/2022/ Sawn timber

    VIDEO: Test run approaching at the Rauma sawmill

    ​The Rauma sawmill is preparing for its production test run. The buildings of the world’s most modern sawmill have been completed, installations are progressing swiftly, and systems are being tested. The production test run will begin in the spring, and production will start up in the third quarter.

    Read More
  • Toilet paper roll

    3/2022/ Pulp

    Turkey sees steep growth in pulp demand

    ​Turkish tissue paper producers are ramping up production and buying increasing amounts of pulp on the international market. Alongside domestic consumption, exports of tissue products to the neighbouring region are growing steeply.

    Read More
  • Tytti Peltonen

    3/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Lobbying for the forest industry

    For the first time, climate change and biodiversity have been made a priority on the EU’s agenda. Current and proposed amendments to legislation will also have a considerable impact on the forest industry. Tytti Peltonen,
    Metsä Group’s VP, Corporate Affairs, at the European Union tells about her work in Brussels.

    Read More
  • Rauma sawmill loading automation

    3/2022/ Sawn timber

    Fast and safe automated loading at the Rauma sawmill

    Automated loading at Metsä Fibre’s Rauma sawmill is a first for the sawmill industry. Conventional forklift loading will become obsolete when packages of sawn timber pass through packaging and dispatch for loading onto trucks without human contact. 

    Read More
  • timber sawn

    2/2022/ Sawn timber

    Timber for Saudi construction boom

    ​Nordic wood is crucial for the quality-driven construction boom in Saudi Arabia.

    Read More
  • Timo Teras

    2/2022/ Pulp

    Finnish pulp has a bright future

    ​For more than 50 years, Timo Teräs has worked as a market researcher and consultant in the forest and pulp industries. Today he is focused on the vital solutions that that support sustainable development.

    Read More
  • 2/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Resource efficiency and a fossil-free future

    Metsä Group’s objective is that all its production side streams will be utilised 100 per cent as either materials or energy. 

    Read More
  • 2/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Aiming for an increasingly responsible way of working

    Metsä Fibre, as part of Metsä Group, implements a large-scale ethics barometer survey. The goal of the survey is to study how the personnel feel the company’s Code of Conduct is being implemented in practice. 

    Read More
  • 2/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Aiming for zero accidents

    Metsä Fibre, like the whole of Metsä Group, has the target of preventing all accidents. Safety is the most important part of professional skills at Metsä Fibre. We want to ensure that every Metsä Fibre employee and the employees of our partners are able to return from work healthy. 

    Read More
  • 2/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Systematic reduction of water use

    Metsä Fibre’s objective is to reduce the use of process water at its pulp mills by 25 per cent per product tonne from the 2018 level by 2030, in line with the Group-wide target. 

    Read More
  • 2/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Towards fossil-free mills

    Metsä Group’s objective is that it will no longer use any fossil fuels in its production by 2030 and will therefore not produce any fossil carbon dioxide emissions.

    Read More
  • 1/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Targeting a sustainable supply chain

    Metsä Fibre’s goal is that all its suppliers will operate according to the environmental, social and economic responsibility requirements jointly set at Metsä Group by 2030. 

    Read More
  • 1/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Targeting the full traceability of all raw materials

    Metsä Fibre’s objective is that 100 per cent of the raw materials used in its production would be traceable. The main raw material used in production is, of course, wood. Metsä Fibre, like the whole Metsä Group, knows the origin of the wood it uses. 

    Read More
  • 3D-rendered-consumer-packaging

    1/2022/ Pulp

    Broad partner network around Äänekoski bioproduct mill

    ​An essential part of Metsä Fibre’s unique bioproduct mill concept is the creation of industrial ecosystems.

    Read More
  • Metsä Svir sawmill

    1/2022/ Sawn timber

    Metsä Svir is known for the high-quality products

    ​The Metsä Svir sawmill in northwest Russia is a state-of-the-art production site, but timber innovation in this corner of Europe dates back centuries.

    Read More
  • 1/2022/ Metsä Fibre

    Targeting completely fossil-free raw materials

    ​Metsä Group’s objective is that all the raw materials it uses in its products will be fossil-free by 2030.

    Read More