Metsä Group’s innovation company Metsä Spring Ltd. and Japanese Itochu Corporation established a joint venture, which invests approximately €40 million in building and operating a test plant, with the aim to demonstrate a new technology for converting paper-grade pulp into textile fibres. Business Finland, a Finnish governmental funding agency, participates in the financing of the demo project with an R&D loan.
The textile fibre demo plant will be located next to Metsä Group’s bioproduct mill in Äänekoski, Finland. Construction of the demo plant, with an annual capacity of about 500 tonnes, began in October 2018 and it is planned to be started up in late 2019. The general engineering partner is Sweco.
“With the plant, and the demonstration project related to it, we aim to prove the technical feasibility of the new textile fibre production technology. Based on the results of the demonstration project, we can then evaluate the technical and economic realities of building a clearly larger plant in Finland in the future. During the demonstration project, which is expected to last two to three years from the start-up of the plant, we will also gather customer feedback related to the new fibres,” commented CEO of Metsä Spring Niklas von Weymarn.
The new technology to be studied and further developed in the demo project is based on direct dissolution using a novel solvent for the pulp dissolution stage. Metsä Group’s wet paper-grade pulp will be used as the raw material. The new technology is estimated to be more environmentally-friendly than the textile fibre production technologies currently in use. The basis for the new technology has been developed in joint research programmes, starting in 2009. The main collaborators, in terms of development of the technology, include Aalto University, University of Helsinki, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and TITK from Germany. Metsä Group’s own active development work started in 2012.
The textile fibre demo plant is the first investment of Metsä Spring, established in May 2018. Metsä Spring invests together with partners in new endeavours with the target to identify and develop new business opportunities within the sustainable forest-based bioeconomy and circular economy.