Originally published 04.02.2022
Espoo-based developer of biotechnology and circular-economy innovations Nordic Bioproducts Group is investing around EUR 30 million in the construction of a new pilot plant, which is due to open in the Harapainen district of Lappeenranta in early 2023. Designing and building the plant is the responsibility of Lappeenranta-based Fiber-X Finland.
Once completed, the pilot plant will be used to make products such as Nordic Bioproducts’ innovative cellulose-based textile fibre Norratex. One of the partners involved in the project is the world’s third largest pulp manufacturer CMPC Ventures.
According to Fiber-X Finland’s Managing Director Mikko Ruuska, the fact that the pilot plant is being built in Lappeenranta is great from the perspective of product development.
– We have a very versatile material here. The expertise of LUT University and LAB University of Applied Sciences can help to take the research and development of this material even further in Lappeenranta.
– Our hope is to network with other operators in the southeast of Finland and build a larger regional cluster that can generate new ideas.
Focus on ecosystem thinking and circular economy
Ruuska emphasises the importance of building an ecosystem around the production process, a concept that has been studied in depth at, for example, Aalto University. Nordic Bioproducts itself was spun off from Aalto University in 2019. Ecosystem thinking is about using a production process as a platform for the development of completely new products from, for example, industrial waste.
– This kind of an approach generates opportunities for research cooperation between organisations such as LUT University and LAB University of Applied Sciences and can lead to the creation of new startups, Ruuska says.
The pilot plant will have the capacity to turn cellulose into plant-based substitutes for textile fibres such as rayon without using carbon disulphide or other toxic chemicals. The plan is to also use the plant to make microcrystalline cellulose, which has a wide range of applications in, for example, the cosmetics, food processing, pharmaceutical and animal feed industries.
The production process also generates sugars, which can be used as starting points for new product development.
– Among the by-products of the process are sugars that can be used in the manufacture of, for example, substitutes for leather or bioplastics, Ruuska says.
The choice of location is key from the perspective of circular economy, and Lappeenranta has a versatile supply of potential raw materials for the plant.
– We are hoping to feed the production process with, for example, discarded textiles, agricultural waste straw and fast-growing high-fibre plants such as willow, Ruuska explains.
Environmentally friendly pilot plant perfectly in line with the city’s strategy
The construction of the pilot plant is due to begin this year, and there are hopes to start the commissioning process towards the end of the year. The plant could therefore officially open in early 2023. According to Ruuska, the design complies with the latest standards and all the processes will be environmentally friendly.
– The plant’s chemical, water and electricity consumption will be a fraction of that of traditional production processes. Maximising the sustainability of the production process and minimising emissions are among our most important design principles.
The plant will initially employ between 30 and 40 people, most of whom will be process engineers, laboratory technicians, sales and marketing personnel and office staff.
The City of Lappeenranta is delighted to provide a home for the new plant in Harapainen. Fiber-X Finland is a member of the Greenreality Network, a business-driven ecosystem of energy and green technology companies in South Karelia, which the City of Lappeenranta coordinates.
For Mayor of Lappeenranta Kimmo Jarva, enabling this kind of growth, development and exploitation of the region’s green know-how is exactly what the city’s targets and strategy are all about.
– This project is a brilliant example of what Lappeenranta can offer to businesses. It combines our cutting-edge research and development expertise, prominent forest industry and pioneering approach to circular economy, energy and the environment.