Lappeenranta is home to UPM’s largest product development unit. The facility specializes in developing the production processes and properties of fibre-based raw materials, paper, pulp, biofuels and biochemicals.
The Kaukas mill has evolved and grown in step with changing production needs. At the start of the year, a new biorefinery kicked off production of renewable UPM BioVerno diesel fuel in Lappeenranta.
Leading a team of five researchers in Lappeenranta, Meri Ventola is in charge of process development for UPM’s new biochemicals business. “Our team spirit is great, and we put a lot of effort into our work. This is an extremely interesting field which is also strongly supported by global megatrends.”
Ventola is confident that UPM’s strong expertise in processing wood materials lays an excellent foundation for the production of biochemicals. This involves various challenges, first and foremost understanding the products and market forces of the chemical industry and harnessing UPM’s existing strengths in competition against industrial giants.
“For instance, technology suppliers play an influential role in the process of developing new technologies for second-generation raw materials. Then again, technological breakthroughs can improve our cost-effectiveness, which could make bio-based products cheaper to manufacture than fossil-based products.
“But we mustn’t forget that this field holds great interest for all the major players in the industry, so we need to work hard to keep our competitive edge.”
Value is also about cost
In addition to biochemical building blocks, UPM is also doing research work on biofibrils and lignin.
Ventola describes a recent innovation: “The GrowDex cell culture medium, for example, which is based on biofibrils, is an intriguing new area of research. It’s a product meant for biomedical research that can be used to grow different kinds of human cells.”
The hunt is also on for new lignin applications.
“Lignin, which is removed from wood during the chemical process, is an interesting material in itself. It can be used in various applications such as glues, resins and carbon fibres,” she adds.
“Creating added value is the key link in the chain of research leading to new innovations. Our objective is to develop new products that are even more cost-effective than what is available today.”