Adding value to softwood pulp manufacturing

It was becoming clear that the projected life cycle of the Metsä Fibre pulp mill in Äänekoski, Finland, was coming to its conclusion. Soon enough it became apparent, that the most attractive alternative was to build a totally new bioproduct mill.
TEXT: MARJATTA PIETILÄ PHOTOS BY LEHTIKUVA AND METSÄ FIBRE

Three additional factors motivated this decision: steady growth in global demand for softwood pulp - especially in China, a supply of Finnish softwood that outstrips demand, and the interest of Metsä Fibre in identifying and developing new products that could be refined from the by-products and residues of pulp manufacturing.

"The basic idea is to design a resource and energy-efficient pulp mill that uses both softwood and hardwood, to manufacture new bioproducts, and to maximise energy generating capacity at the mill," explains Project Director Timo Merikallio, who is in charge of the bioproduct mill project at Metsä Fibre.

Preliminary planning continues

"We are envisaging a growing role in society for bioeconomy, in other words on refining biomass to create various products and generate energy. We cannot ignore these new opportunities when planning a new pulp mill for such a world. This vision underlies our ambition to design a bioproduct mill," says Dr. Niklas von Weymarn, VP Research, Metsä Fibre.

Following some rough drafting of this vision by senior management, the bioproduct mill planning process commenced in early 2013 under the initial guidance of three experts. New members gradually joined this preliminary planning team until it reached its present size of fourteen specialists. A consulting company also contributes additional expertise.

"We believe that the construction phase of the new mill will boost the local economy of Äänekoski," says Project Director Timo Merikallio.

"The primary goal is to design the world's most modern and efficient pulp mill to provide first class pulp products and excellent service to both current and new customers. Our 'conventional' pulp mills already produce additional products such tall oil, turpentine and energy, and in 2013 these products already accounted for 10 per cent of our annual turnover," von Weymarn explains.

"The share of bioproducts will increase gradually at the new bioproduct mill. Our various research lines for new bioproducts will initially include such options as generating biogas and product gas. Bio-char and bio-oil are potential further options at the next stage. Our plan for new bioproducts will be published in December, but it is important to understand that the product portfolio will evolve over the entire life cycle of the mill."

The largest next generation softwood pulp mill in Europe

The news that Metsä Fibre was planning a next generation bioproduct mill in Finland was released in April 2014. This investment of an estimated 1.1 billion euros would be the largest ever made in the forest industry in Finland. The mill would be larger than all predecessors in Europe; pulp mills of comparable size have been constructed only in n Brazil and the Far East. The forecast annual pulp manufacturing capacity of the mill is 1.3 million tonnes. The mill will come on stream in late summer 2017 if Metsä Group gives a green light for investment next spring. The new bioproduct mill will increase the share of renewable energy in Finland by approximately two percentage units, thereby helping to realise the national renewable energy target of 38 per cent of all energy use by 2020. Instead of fossil fuels, all required energy in the mill will be generated from wood. This raw material and residue flows will be wholly converted into products and bioenergy.

"The primary goal is to design the world's most modern and efficient pulp mill."

Annual consumption of fibre wood at the new mill will be 6.5 million cubic metres, mainly sourced from within a radius of 200 kilometres from the mill.

The mill construction project will require an estimated 6,000 person-years of labour, with the fully operational plant providing employment to some 2,500 people in the entire forest to pulp value chain. Metsä Fibre plans to work with a network of small and medium-sized companies to refine, commercialise and market the resulting bioproducts.

Project progressing on schedule

Project Director Timo Merikallio reports that Metsä Fibre submitted an environmental impact assessment (EIA) programme for the bioproduct mill to the Central Finland Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment in May, and received an opinion from the authorities in mid-July: "They received our EIA report in late August and we are expecting a statement in October. Our environmental permit application was lodged in mid-September. We began demolishing the old 1960s mill in October."

"We are also engaged in technical negotiations with equipment manufacturers. When the environmental permit has been issued and the technical concept is complete we shall be in a position to prepare the final investment proposal for senior management. The goal is to have this proposal ready for final approval in spring 2015."

Transparency in all directions

In line with its transparency policy, Metsä Fibre will ensure that the local population remains aware of all progress concerning the new bioproduct mill. The company has enjoyed a strong position in the region as a reliable employer of successive generations throughout its history, and the employment opportunities provided by the new bioproduct mill, both at the construction stage and in the long term, have been received with enthusiasm by local people.



"The core idea is resource efficiency - creating more value from the same amount of raw material," says Dr. Niklas von Weymarn, VP Research, Metsä Fibre.

TIMELINE

2009
Metsä Fibre participates in the five-year "New Biorefineries" research project of Fibic Oy in Finland.
The project seeks to formulate new bioproduct concepts, creating new business opportunities and a knowledge base.

2013
Preliminary planning of a new bioproduct mill begins.

2014
The bioproduct mill project is published. An environmental impact assessment programme, environmental impact assessment report and environmental permit application are submitted to the authorities. Technical planning and negotiations with equipment manufacturers begin. Demolition work commences on the decommissioned 1960s pulp mill.

2015
An investment proposal is submitted to senior management. Bioproduct mill construction begins on approval of this proposal.

2017
The bioproduct mill comes on stream.

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