Bioenergy: More than a by-product

​A theme year has boosted bioenergy, but the work goes on.


Bioenergy was a special theme for Metsä Fibre in 2013, with the company increasing bioenergy output and improving its energy efficiency in a wide range of ways over the year. The ultimate goal of all of the long and short-term measures taken during the theme year was to increase business revenue from bioenergy operations.

As theme year leader at Metsä Fibre, Technology VP Kari Ala-Kaila nevertheless stresses that this was not merely a one-off business initiative, but a serious effort to make people more aware of bioenergy. He assures us that this endeavour will continue:

"Last year was just the opening salvo in this area of our operations." Ala-Kaila explains that the theme year has given the company a more comprehensive and solid appreciation of the potential of bioenergy and of the economic significance of energy commodities.

"A new vision of this kind has clearly emerged, and is now definitely influencing our daily operations on the production side."

Time for an attitude check

Metsä Fibre is not only a well-established pulp manufacturer, but also an important supplier of bioenergy generating more than ten per cent of Finland's renewable energy at its pulp mills! Besides pulp, these mills supply electric power, district heating, wood fuels such as bark and sawdust, and biochemicals in the form of tall oil and turpentine. The combined value of these other products accounts for nearly 15 per cent of the company's turnover.

"It is unfair to describe these energy commodities as mere by-products. They are an important part of the company's operations and revenue streams," Ala-Kaila says, pointing out that everything affects everything else in the company's business operations. There is really no need for external sourcing of energy in the form of fuel oil or natural gas when so much bioenergy is already generated in-house, and mill processes are thereby already becoming entirely independent of fossil fuels.

Turning up the power

The profitability of the bioenergy business operation was improved during the theme year by fine tuning existing processes for better performance and by enhancing organizational practices. In electricity generating, for example, this meant reducing the electric power consumption of in-house processes and optimizing the power plant to improve output. More focused practices resulted in such benefits as dryer tree bark and more efficient use of thermal energy. The entire process was operated with a view to optimizing energy-efficiency from start to finish.

"The main thing is to be aware of the importance of bio-energy, and to highlight both its major and minor impacts clearly," Ala-Kaila explains.

This area of our work is all about frank discussion and a willingness to challenge old practices. We must figure out what we already do well and what we could do even better.

"We also need a more systematic approach in such aspects as how to monitor achievement of goals and how to draw conclusions from key figures."

a united front of four mills

Ala-Kaila also prioritizes shared learning, insisting that it was especially gratifying to see all four Metsä Fibre mills teaming up so effectively during the theme year:

"It was a major plus for us to secure backing for our ideas from colleagues and other company facilities." Ala-Kaila promoted this teamwork as a member of the corporation's Energy group, which officially ponders precisely these themes for the entire Metsä Group and brings strategic content both to the debate and to policymaking.

"The Energy group helps our mills to broaden their outlook and find new concrete opportunities."

This search for a broader perspective also involved some industrial tourism in 2013, with Metsä Fibre staff visiting the operations of energy sector businesses including Gasum, Helsinki Energy and Metso Power.

The customer still comes first

Ala-Kaila points out that even while weighing and debating various improvements, it is vital to make sure that everything continues to serve the needs of the customer.

"This means things like ensuring that supply flows remain steady and that high product quality standards are maintained."

Even though Kari Ala-Kaila has led several similar theme projects and knows that a year is a short time to realize any major change, the value of bringing about a shift in attitudes can be seen with the passing years. Some major milestones were even attained during the theme year itself, with particularly impressive seven-figure results obtained through theme year measures taken at the Kemi mill.

"Our people in Kemi were highly motivated and keen to adopt new practices and acquire expertise," Ala-Kaila enthuses. Special mention should also be made of results achieved with the bark gasification unit in Joutseno, fine-tuning of the lime mud filter in Aanekoski, and innovative flue cleaning solutions in Rauma.

not technology-led this time

Ala-Kaila points out that the ongoing bioenergy revolution is not driven solely by new technology:

"The main thing with bioenergy is to accommodate the full picture. We are also keen to highlight important communication aspects and establish systematic progress in the right direction."

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