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Plastic to biomass: sustainable solutions from Finland’s green gold

SHIFT Business Festival’s program on Thursday saw a discussion about the futures of the forest and chemical industries. Finland is one of the leaders of the forest industry, and the Nordic countries have world-class expertise in forest biomass research as well as in mechanical and chemical processing techniques.

Looking ahead, the forest is clearly an important factor in reducing climate change. Niklas von Weymarnfrom Metsä Spring and René Backes from BASF discussed the role of forests in circular economy. With a long history and multidisciplinary expertise in their respective fields, the Nordic forest and chemical industries are frontrunners in developing and implementing new, climate-friendly technologies and business models.

Plastic being replaced with other materials, for instance, will greatly affect both the forest and chemical industry. “The packaging industry will go more and more from plastics to wood-based products. We see the growth potential for the Nordic forest industry in new materials and the extended use of existing products from forestry,” Backes explained. In the chemical industry, the shift towards ecological solutions shows for example in the increasing use of recycled plastic and in new production methods that make use of renewable materials.

“A whole new forest-based value chain is developing,” Backes continued. As a result of action against climate change, the forest and chemical industries can expect to see entirely new business. Investments in new technologies can support the creation of this new value chain and make it possible to achieve new levels of efficiency, such as utilizing the trunk of a tree in its entirety. Metsä Spring has recently invested in a new, waterproof and light wood composite material that can be used to replace many traditional materials.

“Development takes time, however. For instance, we started refining plant fiber into textile fiber back in 2009, but the first spin-out wasn’t until 2018,” von Weymarn describes an innovation’s journey into the market. Speeding up that journey through putting experts of different fields together and supporting collaboration between industries is one of the main goals of SHIFT.

Text: Miia-Tatjaana Salakka & Vilma Savolainen
Photo: Julius Töyrylä