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Metsä Group Aims To Be Fossil-Free By 2030

by Rudy Sanchez on 04/19/2021 | 5 Minute Read

We've known about the signs and potential catastrophe of continuing to use fossil fuels at our current pace for some time. 

As a finite resource, dinosaur juice gets used as fuel, and it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere where it magnifies the greenhouse effect, making the earth warm and leading to the oceans rising, altering the coastline and local climate patterns. Not only is it disrupting our delicate ecological balance, but it has the potential to displace massive populations of people and create a refugee crisis as temperatures rise and make certain climates uninhabitable.

Besides the gas used in your car, manufacturing and production are also large consumers of fossil fuels, used to power furnaces, machinery, generate steam, or create chemicals, resins, and other synthetic products. Any solution towards significantly abating climate change will have to include a meaningful reduction in the use of fossil fuels across manufacturing.

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One industry that holds potential in significantly reducing or even completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels is the paper industry. The logging and production of paper and cardboard generate a lot of biomass—renewable organic material from plants—that can get repurposed into fuel. Though burning biomass also generates CO2 gas, the amount generated is nearly commensurate with the amount absorbed used in photosynthesis. 

Metsä Group consists of five companies; Metsä Board, Metsä Fibre, Metsä Tissue, Metsä Wood, and Metsä Forest and has a cooperative of Finnish forest owners behind it. Essentially, if it's paper, they have a hand in it. Altogether, the group employs over 9,300 people and generates over 5 billion Euros in revenue yearly.

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They’re also trying to make all of their mills and paper products fossil fuel-free by 2030, no easy task to be sure.

So far, they’ve taken several steps to make this a reality. They've designed new, energy self-sufficient mills, increased efficiencies at existing facilities, and used logging residues as biofuel. All of those fibers and other organic materials that don't get used Metsä’s final products can get transformed into a suitable replacement for fossil fuel if they are not recycled. What was once considered “waste,” this biomass from manufacturing, can now be fed back into production facilities, primarily to generate electricity.

According to Metsä Board CEO Mika Joukio, the group now sees itself as part of the global effort towards fighting back the effects of climate change. Metsä Group aims to inspire other industries to eliminate the usage of fossil fuels while producing more sustainable products.

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“As a responsible company, we want to play our part in mitigating climate change. And at Metsä Board, we don't want to just be a follower. We want to be at the forefront, showing by example what we’ve been doing. As we all know, climate change is a global challenge, and all industries must reduce the use of fossil fuels to mitigate its effects,” Joukio said.

One of the ways in which Metsä Tissue is doing this is at its Mänttä tissue facility, where they provide biomass fuel to the plant powering the actual mill. The sidestream material gets used as a replacement for peat, with more peat getting replaced as more biomass fuel becomes available. Similarly, at Metsä Wood’s Suolahti facility, fossil fuels are only used in the most extraordinary circumstances, such as at startup or maintenance. The plant uses its own byproducts to fuel itself, an example of circular economic thinking and operation.

“We have this integration where we have pulp Mills, and that pulp production generates bio-based energy, of course, because it's coming from forest wood,” Mika explained.

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Designing mills around this circular approach to using waste to further power the facility goes a long way in reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The Äänekoski bioproduct mill, opened in 2017 and fully operational the following year, operates using no fossil fuels while also generating more energy than the mill consumes, at 240% self-sufficiency. The mill utilizes 100% of the raw wood input, producing, in addition to 1.3 million tons of wood pulp, useful non-paper products, including electricity, tall oil, turpentine, sulphuric acid, and biogas.

Reducing fossil-fuel consumption doesn’t even require new, state-of-the-art mills. Sometimes, Metsä finds progress in smaller-scale improvements like at their Simpele mill, where they found a way to reduce the use of peat with a change to the metering system.

Using no fossil-based fuels by 2030 is an ambitious target, but in 2020, 83% of the energy consumed by Metsä Board was fossil-free, with 48% coming from renewable sources and 35% coming from nuclear. Going from 17% to zero involves both large-scale and long-term investments, closely working with partners and other firms to find uses of sidestream products, and looking for incremental improvements in existing operations. As a company, Metsä strives to set the example by making demonstrable improvements in the sustainability of its operations across the entire corporate group. 

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Design can solve problems, or at the very least, alleviate some of the bigger, existential ones like climate change. While a focus on designing out single-use plastic has been underway, other materials can harm the environment in different ways, such as the emissions produced during manufacturing. Forward-thinking firms like Metsä are actively working towards making their products more sustainable, providing their customers and end consumers with products aligned with their conscience.

“All industries must reduce the use of fossil fuels in order to mitigate climate change, and we at Metsä are a good example of an industry member taking the lead. For example, Metsä Board is 83% fossil-free at the moment and on track to be fossil-free by 2030,” said Joukio.

“As a company, Metsä Board has a responsibility to our customers, in addition to being an example to our industry, and we want to offer them sustainable and responsible products and services.”

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