Story | 12/21/2015 09:21:00

Reform of the forest industry through innovation

Developed and produced at the Lappeenranta mill site, UPM's renewable diesel is a good example of the transformation of the forest industry. Finnish innovation helps the industry expand into new fields. Jaakko Nousiainen tells the story of BioVerno, UPM's renewable diesel.

You need to have the right attitude to work

The story began nearly a decade ago when the management of UPM was looking into expanding the company's operations from traditional wood and paper industries into new fields. One of the ideas discussed was biofuels.

Soon enough, UPM started research on converting wood mass to biofuel by gasification. Another approach to biofuel production was to utilise the side streams from pulp and paper production, but initially this option did not get as much attention.

"In a way, tall oil was a spin-off from the original research", says Jaakko Nousiainen, who joined the research team in 2008. The spin-off had its advantages: As tall oil is already in a liquid state, the research team could move straight onto the final stage of the refinement process.

Tall oil proved to be a productive line of research and UPM's tall oil-based renewable diesel has been available in service stations all around Finland since May.

"The product fits well in a company like UPM. As with wood, pulp or paper, we have a major advantage in renewable diesel production as we have easy access to the raw material. We are also used to managing large processes and have been learning about sustainability for decades. For UPM, responsibility is a prerequisite for our licence to operate", says Nousiainen.

Nousiainen himself has switched position from product development to production: He is currently Production Manager at the UPM Lappeenranta biorefinery.

Innovation is driving forestry in new directions

The renewable diesel developed in Lappeenranta is a good example of the forest industry transformation. Ali Harlin, Research Professor at Technical Research Centre VTT, says: "During the last 10 to 15 years, we have learned more about wood as a raw material than in the last 100 years combined. The number of researchers working in the field is also quite significant".

For example, UPM's product portfolio now consists not only of the traditional paper, pulp and timber products, but also of specialty labels, fuel, energy, biochemicals, plywood and composite materials. In addition to the new products already in production, UPM has ongoing product development projects in many fields.

The development of UPM BioVerno diesel lasted from 2007 to 2012, when UPM made the invest decision to the production facility. The biorefinery for wood-based renewable diesel was constructed at the traditional mill site in Kaukas, Lappeenranta. The total investment was approximately EUR 179 million.

Both the innovation and the investment came as great news to professionals in Lappeenranta. Biofuel production employs approximately 200 people locally.

"Some of our employees have experience in forestry, some have worked at the power plant and, of course, some have experience in the chemical and oil-refining industries. We also have several people with backgrounds in the mining industry", says Nousiainen, as he describes employees of the new production line.

Nousiainen himself followed a rather unique career path. "I'm a somewhat unusual case as I'm not actually an engineer. I have a master's degree in chemistry", reveals Nousiainen, who started his career as an analytical chemist in UPM's research centre.

Nousiainen states that the industry offers "good career opportunities for good people".

"The production process demands specialised knowledge and a great deal of training and on-the-job-learning. Therefore, you need to have an open mind and a keen desire to learn", he says. "You need to have the right attitude to work. It's not enough to know what you're doing. You need to really understand it".

The transforming forest industry is also an interesting career choice for those who want to find a deeper meaning in their work. "I see the forest industry as a constant, stable operator. By contributing to it, we are helping to shape the future of Finland", says Nousiainen.

Jaakko Nousiainen tells the story of the innovation of renewable diesel in his blog post:

The inspiration and innovations behind UPM BioVerno


Ville Blåfield