Pulp and Paper: Industries with a Bright Future


There was something for all professionals from the pulp, paper, board, and energy-producing industries at Valmet Customer Days in Vienna, Austria, recently. Paper360° sat down with Pasi Laine, president and CEO of Valmet, to look at what seems like a bright future for all “renewable” industries.

Some 200 customers from more than 40 countries were in attendance at Customer Days in Vienna, where Valmet offered a mixture of inspirational keynotes and specifically dedicated programs covering pulp, paper and board, tissue, and energy. There was, of course, also some of Valmet’s latest technology on display, with a major portion dedicated to the Industrial Internet and augmented reality demonstrations, areas attracting real interest among pulp and paper companies.

The usual Valmet Customer Days, when held in European cities, often end with a mill tour somewhere in the local vicinity, but this year Valmet imaginatively decided to take advantage of new technology to carry out “Virtual Reference” visits, essentially bringing mills from all over the world to the audience. Virtual Refence mills included Metsä Group’s Äänekoski mill, Finland; Pratt Industries’ Valparaiso mill, IN, US; and tissue mill Lila Kagit, Turkey.

P360: There appears to be a lot of optimism in and around the pulp and paper industry at the moment. In your opinion, what has brought on the turnaround from a seemingly “sunset” industry to a “new dawn” in such a relatively short space of time?

Laine: It is interesting that just a few years ago our industry was seen as one without any hope for the future, particularly from an outsider’s point of view. I think those of us working in the industry actually thought in a different way. About this time, we at Valmet came out with the slogan “Converting Renewable Resources into Sustainable Results,” and many of our customers also had similar types of slogans and similar missions. So, the industry itself actually saw that there was a much better future on the way. But it took a while for those outside of the industry to see it.

Some of Valmet’s newest technology—including a highly energy-efficient recovery boiler and an onsite sulfuric acid plant—have been recently deployed at Metsä Group’s Äänekoski mill.

It has been interesting to see that our industries have become part of the solution to the planet’s problems. Public opinion is supporting us, the facts are supporting us, and now certainly our industry is seen as one with a bright future. Of course, our customers have been benefiting from it, but we as suppliers have also been benefiting from it, and of course the global push toward a more CO2 neutral world has also benefited from it.

Looking at Valmet’s latest results, it seems the company is in great shape going forward. Can you comment briefly on the individual business areas?

All in all, our order intake has been good, and services and automation demand and outlook also continue to be good. It seems our customers are making profits, so they need to expand their capacity and then, of course, to keep it up and running. On the pulp side the outlook is satisfactory. There has been one big project announced by Arauco where we got half, and there are several pulp projects in the planning phase, but it might still take a while before they materialize.

The same goes for tissue, where activity level is less than it has been during the last two years, but those years have been excellent for us.

Interestingly, we have added a new business area to our portfolio: marine scrubbers, an area that is showing great promise. We have been developing our technology for several years, mainly from our experience in power stations and recovery boilers, and we are seeing some sizable orders coming in from that new area.

According to various forecasters and commentators in the pulp industry, it seems that demand for pulp (and fiber) globally is going to grow. Do you think the pulp industry will cope with the future demand? Is Valmet ready to build a lot of new pulp capacity?

Well, of course the forecasters know the demand best, but we accept their forecasts and we believe that the demand will continue to grow and there will be new investments. As I have said before, the exact timing of new investments is still open, but we see that the coming three years will have a lot more activity on possible pulp projects. And of course, we are ready for any new projects.

Can you comment on plastic vs. fiber-based packaging—again, do you think the paper industry is ready for a major increase in demand as plastic becomes more and more unpopular as a packaging material?

I think the industry will have a tough time replacing the larger part of products that are currently made out of plastic. So first of all, I think we need to take care of product development, together with our customers and other partners, so that we can enhance the features of our current packaging material. Of course, plastic has a lot of features that we cannot fulfill yet, so it will be a slow process to add additional features to paper and pulp packaging applications, and that’s what we need to do.

Valmet Automation Research Director Mika Karaila with hololenses, experiencing Valmet’s virtual, mixed, and augmented reality applications.

Very importantly, we need to take very good care of our own sustainability—making sure that we use only wood resources that are sustainable and that our own operations are always improving when it comes to sustainability. We must continue to work on our energy efficiency so that we will keep the good image we have worked for.

We need to work very hard on both areas—developing new products and then making sure that operations are completely sustainable and run at maximum efficiency when it comes to energy and water use.

What is your opinion on the results being achieved at the moment when it comes to Big Data use and what Valmet calls the “Industrial Internet”? Is the industry using this technology to its full advantage?

We have been developing our Industrial Internet offering since we acquired what was Metso’s Process Automation in 2015, and we are noticing that there is more and more interest toward the solutions that we have been building. We are taking a very pragmatic approach to the Industrial Internet and we have built support centers from where we can remotely support our customer base globally. At the same time, we have been developing new applications to enhance the productivity of our customers using Big Data applications based on data analytics. I think our pragmatic approach in applying Industrial Internet applications is the best way to go, and then once the customers get it, and accept it, it will start to fly.

The Industrial Internet will continue to be one of Valmet’s main focus areas. We will develop further as we see good potential in the future.

Valmet recently announced the acquisition of Enertechnix, the high-tech combustion diagnostics and monitoring technology company based in Washington State, US. Can you tell us why you have made this acquisition and what the technology brings to Valmet?

We have our analyzer business, with very good market position mainly in paper and fiber, and we have some analyzers also for boiler applications. With this new acquisition we now have added technology that we can use in analyzing combustion and the conditions of combustion in recovery boilers, biomass boilers, and also in other boilers, so it’s a natural expansion of our analyzer business.

In terms of R&D, can you tell us about any specific areas of focus? Any comments on niche areas for the production of products from side streams at pulp mills?

We spend around EUR 64 million (US$72.8 million) every year on R&D, and there are many different focus areas we are working in. In pulp and paper we have ongoing R&D in the area of increasing yield from the production lines, in reducing energy use, and of course increasing energy production. In recovery boilers we have developed a new kind of system with much higher energy efficiency; the first one is running at Metsä Group’s Äänekoski mill. It is running well and achieving great results.

In the pulp area, we have recently brought in a new cooking process to improve yield, and also to improve the cooking results when the raw material varies in quality. And of course, we are continuing to work on lignin separation and other side stream possibilities, for instance the sulfuric acid plant also delivered to Äänekoski.

Then in paper, we have brought out a new product, a sleeve roll, to lower energy consumption in the forming section; we’ve also introduced a hardening sizer to improve on the quality and runnability of the machines. In automation, we are delivering new operating panels that we can now make with our Valmet DNA/DCS solutions/systems.

So, R&D is happening in all the segments, and as can be seen from the new, successful products, we are getting results.

Can you tell us about the Provides project on Deep Eutectic Solvents (DES), in which Valmet is participating? What are your thoughts—do you think it is going to change the face of pulp production as we know it?

DES (see sidebar) is in the basic study phase. It’s an interesting concept, but it may take many years before we see it working on a commercial scale. It’s a concept that we are studying and working on with the other Provides members.

This technology is a very deep and complex area. I think most of the new technologies that we have been developing in pulp have taken several years, even if they have been only one part of the pulp mill process. Of course if we’re talking about a totally new concept for pulp mills, then 10 years can go by very quickly.

Given Valmet’s mission statement, “to convert renewable resources into sustainable results,” any comments on the progress of the pulp, paper, and bioproduct industries, in particular in relation to the bioeconomy and circular economy?

Our industries are at the very core of the bioeconomy and circular economy because they are using renewable resources to make products that can be circulated and, in the end, these products can all be turned to CO2-free energy. We are actually at the core of this whole sustainability thinking and, as I already said, we need to take care that all the raw materials are from sustainable sources.

We also need to demonstrate very clearly that we are constantly improving when it comes to production processes and that we are working on better yield from raw materials, at the same time using less energy, creating less effluent, and making less noise. If we continue to improve our performance, then we will always be at the center of the bio and circular economies. We must make sure that we do everything we can to keep our industry as the preferred solution.

Provides: Paving the Way for a Low-Carbon Bio-economy
In 2011, the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) launched its industry vision for the next 35 years: “Unfold the Future,” a 2050 Roadmap to a low-carbon bio-economy that outlined how the forest fiber industry is uniquely placed to contribute to a resource-efficient world. The Roadmap examined consumer trends, industrial integration, and the impact of policymakers to reach its main conclusion: the pulp and paper industry will need breakthrough technologies to be more sustainable.

To generate and develop new ideas, CEPI launched the Two Team Project competition. The 2013 winning concept, Deep Eutectic Solvents (DES), is being researched in the Europe-wide Provides project, coordinated by the Netherlands-based Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT).  Provides (which stands for “PROcesses for Value-added fibres by Innovative Deep Eutectic Solvents”) recently celebrated the completion of the first stage of its research by publishing a booklet describing the potential of DES. (Download the free publication at www.providespaper.eu.)

DES are a new class of natural solvents that have the unique ability to dissolve and thus mildly fractionate lignin, hemicellulose, and cellulose at low temperature and atmospheric pressure for further processing into high added value materials and chemicals. Nature-based, renewable, biodegradable, low-volatile, cost-effective and extremely energy efficient—particularly because their processes do not require high temperatures—these “green” pulping solvents are composed of two or more components, at least one HBD and one HBA, interacting with each other by self-associating, forming an eutectic mixture with a melting temperature far below that of its constituents. DES are also called Low Transition Temperature Mixtures (LTTMs).

The project’s main objective is to develop a radically new, sustainable, and techno-economically feasible pulping technology for wood and agro-based lignocellulose raw materials based on DES. Provides also seeks to develop efficient, novel cellulose-dissolving DES and other DES to process lignocellulose materials, starting with paper for recycling, with a focus on sustainability of the chemical components and technical and economic applicability of the solvent system.

The technological breakthrough expected through the development of such new DES pulping technology could reduce process energy intensity by at least 40 percent and investment costs by 50 percent compared with traditional chemical pulping technology. Provides will create both fundamental and industry-driven technological knowledge based on lab to bench/pilot scale experimentation through a variety of ways, including mapping and selection of the most effective DES families; investigating processes and process technology options; providing products for industrial evaluation; and assessing impacts in terms of energy and cost reductions, as well as the new high-added value applications that Provides could bring to the pulp and paper industry.

The Provides project consists of 27 participants. These include major manufacturers (such as Sappi, Metsä Fibre, UPM, and Mondi); major industry vendors (including Valmet, Buckman, Omya, and Voith); three universities; two research institutes; and ISPT. Learn more at http://www.providespaper.eu.

Seeing (Infra)red with Enertechnix
Based in Olympia, WA, US, Enertechnix develops and commercializes innovative technologies for process and environmental monitoring. Though it employs only 20 people, since its founding in 1995 Enertechnix has developed and commercialized acoustic systems for measuring gas temperatures in large-scale boilers, as well as mid-infrared imaging systems for visual monitoring of conditions within high-temperature, particle-laden environments.

In October 2018, Valmet acquired Enertechnix for an undisclosed amount. According to Valmet, the acquisition complements Valmet’s automation offering for both the energy and the pulp and paper industries, enabling Valmet to offer more comprehensive solutions to improve the efficiency, availability, and safety of recovery and power boilers.

Enertechnix employees at the company’s Washington State headquarters.

“Enertechnix’ combustion diagnostics and monitoring systems meet well the needs of today’s recovery and power boiler operators,” comments Sami Riekkola, business line president, automation, for Valmet. “We are especially excited about the comprehensive imaging and high-temperature measurement solutions, as well as the many opportunities they provide in opening a whole new window into the boiler process.”

Chief products from Enertechnix include high-resolution infra-red camera systems with diagnostics software to provide superior online visibility and temperature analysis. The systems are able to see through obscuring dust and gas to depths of 24 meters, allowing monitoring of developments anywhere in the combustion chamber.

Enertechnix has also developed a visible wavelength, light-weight, fully digital imaging system that provides high-resolution HD video quality and unprecedented operational views of extreme high-temperature processes such as in kilns, boilers, furnaces, and more. The company supplies image processing software to provide additional information from the networked cameras.

“I believe that our leading products, technologies, and business will be further developed at Valmet, and they will be better and more easily accessible to the customers globally. We are very excited and pleased to be part of Valmet,” says George Kychakoff, Enertechnix founder and CEO. Visit www.enertechnix.com to learn more.

Using VR/AR in Mills
Would your mill benefit from a safer way to train people for hazardous work conditions, or practice hands-on skills during risky situations? Combining game-style training in the virtual reality environment can boost learning to new heights. Valmet has piloted training in virtual reality (VR) with some customers, and the results are promising.

The Valmet blog (valmet.com/media/blogs/) shares three key learnings from the pilot programs:

1) Hands-on feel brings higher motivation: It has been proven that virtual reality stimulates the learning process and makes it faster. VR games can introduce goals, interaction, feedback, problem-solving skills, competition, narrative, and fun to the traditional learning environments. The hands-on feel sparks a higher motivation to learn. In virtual reality, users can immerse themselves in simulated situations to learn the correct procedures. Also, more people can be trained simultaneously and even globally, which saves time and expenses.

2) Keeping it ‘real’: The best results in training are reached when the VR environment has been designed to match the real mill or plant environment with as much detail as possible. Named teleport points can assist people in the environment when they recognize hazardous points and safe routes accordingly. For example, black and yellow safety stickers and tapes must be attached as they exist; also, safety gates must operate properly in a way that they do not let anybody in without valid safety keys.

VR exercises work better when they start with normal, real-life procedures—for example, working outfits and accessories are inspected before proceeding is possible. Those small details should be considered every time the virtual working environment is customized according to a mill’s specifications. There are slight differences in layouts, occupational safety measures, and training measures every time VR is implemented. Plants can expand the ambience with their own 360° videos.

3) Make critical locations virtual; elsewhere 360° video is enough: For training purposes, it is sufficient to model all the critical locations while the aisles and less critical spaces and rooms can be seen in a 360° video format. Some AR items, like instructions and warnings, can be implemented as separate layers/objects.

Would you also like to minimize costly downtime in a complex mill or plant environment? Augmented Reality (AR) can lead the industry into a new era in mill maintenance.

Unlike VR, which creates a totally artificial environment, AR uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it in real time. AR can be a valuable maintenance tool. It enables a new kind of access to information when performing maintenance tasks, which means improved efficiency and safety, plus savings in time and money. Also, with the help of AR, preventive maintenance measures can be checked remotely, leading not only to better efficiency, but better predictability and prevention of failures.

The control room is the nerve center of a mill or a plant, where screens display thousands of measurements from different parts of the process stages drawn in piping and instrumentation diagrams. With the help of AR, this process information can be displayed virtually in a headset, and mechanics can take the information they need with them when they are working on a machine.

For example, Valmet has created virtual solutions to visualize process measurements at pulp and paper mills. With the help of mobile devices and modern wearables, technicians can easily access the maintenance instructions and process measurements for mechanical components, valves, and other equipment. This makes the whole operation more safe and manageable. Technicians can also shoot 360° video when tackling a task for the first time together with a more experienced worker. Later, when executing the task alone, they can verify the different stages of the work through AR devices. This is one way to ensure consistently good results in maintenance work.

Finally, with AR, most preventive measures can be checked using “hands-off” instead of “hands-on” repairing procedures. Repairs can be predicted and scheduled well before possible failures happen, which would obviously have a huge impact on plant reliability and production uptime.