Extensive investments in Finnish and Swedish forest industry

In Kvarnsveden, Northvolt is building a manufacturing plant for active material and battery cells. Photo: Northvolt.

Sören Back
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In recent years there have been extensive closures of printing paper mills and large investments within the Swedish and Finnish paper and pulp groups. Overall, therefore, their product portfolios have undergone major changes as this blog contribution will show.

In the past, Stora Enso, SCA and UPM were among the largest producers of printing paper, above all various newspaper and magazine papers. But after mill closures in Sweden and Finland, their product portfolios are very different today. The Swedish mills Stora Enso Kvarnsveden and SCA Ortviken are closed, and instead other companies are established on their previous industrial sites. In Kvarnsveden, Northvolt will build a manufacturing plant for active material and battery cells with significantly more employees compared to what the Stora Enso's newsprint mill had. In Ortviken, SCA has just started a new CTMP mill at the same time as Renewcell started the world's first plant for regenerating collected cotton textiles into cellulose for the manufacture of new textile products. In addition, Stora Enso has sold its mill in Nymölla with a capacity of 475,000 tonnes of office paper as well as the newsprint mill with one remaining paper machine in Hyltebruk.

SB 21mar23 2Stora Enso invest one billion euros in Oulu, for production of folding boxboard and coated unbleached board. Photo: Stora Enso.

In Finland, there have also been significant closures of paper machines. At the end of 2020, UPM closed its Kaipola mill that produced 720,000 tonnes of newsprint and coated magazine papers. Stora Enso's mill in Oulu was, with a capacity of just over one million tonnes, one of Europe's largest mills for coated wood-free paper, but in 2020 both machines were closed. Instead, they immediately set about converting PM7 to kraftliner and white top kraftliner with a total capacity of 450,000 tonnes. An investment of a total of one billion euros is now underway in Oulu, which includes e.g. rebuilding the second machine, PM6, for production of folding boxboard and coated unbleached board. The rebuilt machine is planned to be put into operation in 2025. The capacity of the machine is stated to be 750,000 tonnes of consumer board. The mill in Oulu will therefore have a total capacity of 1.2 million tonnes, making it one of Europe's largest of its kind.

Metsä Group is another player that invests heavily in Finland. Bolstered by the success of the bioproduct mill in Äänekoski, which started in 2017 with a capacity of 1.3 million tonnes of short and long fibre pulps, the construction of a second bioproduct mill is now underway in Kemi. The start-up is expected to take place in the third quarter of 2023. The capacity in Kemi will be 1.5 million tonnes of short and long fibre pulps and the investment is just over two billion euros, the largest ever in the Finnish forest industry. In Kemi, Metsä Fibre already has a pulp mill integrated with Metsä Board's liner mill, which produces coated and uncoated white top kraft liner. At the same time as the investment in the upcoming bio-product factory, Metsä Board has increased the capacity of the liner mill in Kemi, from 425,000 to 465,000 tonnes.

SB 21mar23 3The capacity of the bioproduct mill in Kemi will be 1.5 million tonnes of short and long fibre pulps and the investment is just over two billion euros. Photo: Metsä Group.

In addition to the investments in Kemi, Metsä Group has started a pre-project with the aim of establishing a folding boxboard mill in Kaskinen on the Finnish west coast. There used to be a sulphate pulp mill which was shut down, but since 2005 there is a BCTMP mill with a capacity of 390,000 tonnes of pulp. The planned folding boxboard mill will have a capacity of 800,000 tonnes and an investment decision will be made in 2024 at the earliest.

While we talk about Metsä Group's powerful investments, let’s take a step across the Bothnian Sea to Sweden where Metsä Board has its mill in Husum producing bleached sulphate pulps, folding boxboard and bleached kraft liner. Recently, an investment of 350 million euros in a new recovery boiler and turbine has been completed and put into operation. Now a second major investment of approx. 210 million euros is underway in Husum to increase the capacity of folding boxboard from 400,000 tonnes to 600,000 tonnes. The start-up of the expanded folding boxboard machine is scheduled for the end of 2023 with the goal of reaching full capacity in 2025. There are also plans to invest further in Husum's pulp mill before 2030.

SB 21mar23 4End of last year Metsä Board Husum started up the new recovery boiler and turbine.

One hundred kilometres north of Husum, SCA is investing SEK 7.5 million in increased kraftliner production. The major part is a new kraftliner machine that was put into operation in September 2022 in their mill in Obbola, replacing an old machine. In addition, a new recycle fibre plant will start operation soon. In order to cope with the increased capacity, investments have also been made in the pulp mill, for example a new lime kiln. The mill’s capacity increased from 450,000 tonnes to 725,000 tonnes of kraftliner.

In February this year, Metsä Tissue, part of the Metsä Group, made the final decision to invest 370 million euros in a new tissue machine at its mill in Mariestad, Sweden. The machine will have a capacity of 70,000 tonnes of tissue, doubling the mill's capacity, and the start-up is expected to be during the second half of 2025.

This is not the only thing that is happening regarding production of tissue in Sweden. Very recently, news came that the Hungarian family-owned tissue producer Vajda Papir has plans to start production in Sweden. In that case, it would mean moving their current tissue production in Norway to Sweden. If these plans materialize, it means that the total number of paper, board and pulp mills in Norway will decrease from ten to nine.

In Sweden, Stora Enso is making powerful investments in its board mill in Skoghall as well as in its pulp mill in Skutskär. Skoghall has a capacity of 800,000 tonnes of board, mainly liquid board, as well as 650,000 tonnes of pulps. At the moment 97 million euros are invested to increase the capacity of board to 900,000 tonnes. The investment is expected to be completed in the second half of 2023. The mill in Skutskär, with a capacity of 540,000 tonnes of pulp, is Europe's largest producer of fluff pulp and 40 million euros are invested to increase efficiency and lower the carbon footprint.

SB 21mar23 5The kraftliner machine in Obbola has three forming units in the wire section.

UPM doesn't skimp on investments either. The two largest, however, take place outside the Nordic countries, namely in Germany and Uruguay. In Leuna, Germany, 750 million euros is invested in the construction of the world's first large-scale biorefinery. With a planned start at the end of 2023, production of biochemicals based on sustainable wood raw material will take place. The capacity will be 220,000 tonnes. In Paso de los Toros in Uruguay, UPM will soon put a new giant pulp mill into operation with a capacity of two million tonnes of eucalyptus pulp. The entire investment covers two billion euros. As UPM already has a pulp mill, Frey Bentos, in Uruguay, Paso de los Toros will be their second in the country.

There seems to be no lack of initiative and optimism among the large Swedish and Finnish forest companies. They feel the wind in the sails in important product areas and have at the same time drawn the consequences of the shrinking printing paper market. In addition to investments in "traditional" products such as packaging materials and tissue paper, which have good market prospects, there are also substantial investments in completely new areas that challenge oil-based products in textiles, biochemicals, biofuels and materials. In the wake of larger and more efficient pulp mills, the mills’ side streams become larger and thus commercially interesting for the manufacture of other products. The wave of investment will therefore roll on, also in new product areas and possibly in partnerships with actors outside the forest industry.

Soren Back portrait2Sören Back has been working in the Swedish pulp and paper industry since 1976. With an M.Sc. in chemistry with focus on in pulp and paper technology the career spans from production control, product development, sales and marketing to communications, including PR, primarily in managerial positions. Over the years Sören has worked for MoDo Paper, M-real, now Metsä Board, and SP Processum but is now running his own business, SB Kommunikation AB, as freelance writer and communications consultant with customers mainly within the pulp and paper industry.