International project lead by VTT will speed up the development of fibre-based products

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Together with a large industrial consortium, VTT Technical Research of Finland has launched a EUR 4.5 million project to speed up the development of fibre-based products as alternatives to oil-based materials like plastics.

The project, funded partly by the European Regional Development Fund ERD, has brought together 33 companies, ranging from small to large global companies. An important part of the project will be to build a new pilot without wet press, specifically designed for development of porous materials.

In order to get to know more about this interesting project involving partners from not only Finland but also from other European countries, North America and Asia, Paper Advance has interviewed Harri Kiiskinen, Future Fibre Products project manager.

The Future Fibre Products project will transform laboratory-scale results into pilot-scale demonstrations for products and processes with a low carbon footprint. Does this mean that there are already a number of laboratory results ready for upscaling? If so, could you give us some examples?

"We have produced several material demos in lab scale, e.g. sound/thermal insulation materials, filtering materials, foam formed specialty papers and foam formed nonwovens. Ideas originate mainly from VTT research."

Is screening a part of the project, aiming at identifying promising projects with future potential?

"Naturally we are all the time, also in the new project, screening new future potential solutions and applications. Parts of these might lead to new ideas and projects together with our current and new partners".

"Typically we first produce demo materials and evaluate the mechanical performance and other critical properties. For a customer the cost structure is the next question if something is technologically applicable."

Are you focussing on a limited number of upscaling products/product areas? If so, which ones?

"Within this project we focus on web-like roll goods, mainly low density/highly porous materials. We are not going 'too close' to any specific product. Product specific development will be done in separate company driven projects."

The project will explore how the current paper and board production infrastructure can be utilised in the field of new packaging solutions, non-woven materials, porous insulation or as replacement for EPS-based materials. How will this evaluation be done? Collecting information from the project partners? Judging from the names of the participating companies there must be a lot of updated knowledge available in the group.

"For sure companies have done their homework. We'll provide pilot scale data and also some mill scale simulation work towards up-scaling of the technology will be done. Companies can then utilize this information in their own cases. All companies are represented in the steering group and they have been very active which is a great help for a project manager."

"We are constantly communicating the plans and results to the companies. They are involved in the actual planning phase for research work and in analysing the results together with our scientists."

In order to answer the increasing piloting needs of companies in the development of novel solutions for future fibre products, VTT is investing in another pilot line facility in the city of Jyväskylä.

"The pilot will consist of a forming section, two non-contact dryers and a sampling unit. There is no wet press which is the biggest difference to the existing papermaking pilot. The new line will enable the production of lightweight, porous materials, as it can be operated without a wet-pressing unit. The line will be ready for trials in early 2018."

"The new pilot, together with the current piloting environment, will have a central role in demonstrating alternatives with the most potential. We hope that it will be used as efficiently by industrial partners, universities, and other research organisations as the current one."

"We'll utilize both the existing and the new pilot in the project. There are no restrictions, VTT pilots are available also for those companies who are not members of this consortium."

"Finally, I would like to stress that this project is just one way of co-operating with VTT. We also have several other ways to serve our customers."

Thirty-three industrial companies from Finland, North America, Europe and Asia decided to join. The project brings together actors from small enterprises to global leaders in the field, to tackle major challenges through open innovation.

The industrial project partners are A Fredrikson Research & Consulting, Ahlstrom-Munksjö, Albany International, Andritz, Anpap, BASF, Berndorf Band, BillerudKorsnäs, BinNova, Essity (formerly SCA Hygiene Products), Glatfelter, Humuspehtoori, Irving Paper Limited, Kemira, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Metsä Group, Moorim SP, Neenah Gessner, Novarbo, Paptic, Pixact, ProDeliver, Rejlers Finland, Sappi, SCG Packaging, Stora Enso, Sulzer Pumps Finland, Suominen, UPM-Kymmene, Valmet, Weidmann Electrical Technology, WestRock Corporation, and Wetend Technologies.