Beyond Timber & Paper: Next-Gen Wood Products Are Everywhere!

From crisis comes opportunity: The world's largest forest companies are now investing in material science to create the future's renewable and circular products.

Mon 13 May 24


The “golden age” of paper-based products is over, with global forest producers using state-of-the-art tech and material science to make the most of wood – in order to create higher value and longer-lasting forest products.

The push comes as Finnish media report that Metsä Group and Stora Enso, two of the world’s largest manufacturers of forest products, have “completely abandoned printing paper,” with both, along with UPM, heavily investing in textiles, biofuels, and engineered wood products.

Last year, Wood Central revealed that Finland was among the countries hardest hit by Russian sanctions – with Finnish manufacturers in the southeast relying on pulp to produce high-volume paper products.

At the time, Dr Ali Harlin, a research professor at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, said that wood availability was (and is) one of the most critical challenges facing the country’s €33 billion industry.

“You can send a thank-you note for that to the Kremlin. We have drifted into a situation where we have a significant shortage of wood, above all in southeast Finland,” Dr Harlin told the Finnish publication YLE

Leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland was one of Russia’s top three markets for forest exports, with Finnish manufacturers relying on Russian fibre to produce pulp and paper. Now, Finland is carving a brave new direction. Footage courtesy of ja metsätalousministeriön.

In addition, Dr Harlin said that the EU’s Green Deal—and its Carbon Sink obligations—mean that scaling up forest harvesting is not an option: “The growth of forests has also declined in recent years and is unlikely to recover to its previous level.”

Together, this has created a “double whammy” for the industry, with Luke, the Natural Resources Institute of Finland, confirming that the contribution of wood products to the GDP is shrinking, with the value added to the national economy by each cubic metre of wood processed.

Value-enhancing use of the primary components of wood “Lignin, cellulose and hemicelluose” is the key,” according to Duncan Mayes, the founder and principal of Helsinki-based Lignutech Oy. 

Finland is one of the world's largest forest economies - it was also one of the heaviest hit by Russian sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine. (Photo Credit: Esa Hiltula via I Stock Images by Getty Images)
Finland is one of the world’s largest forest economies – with Stora Enso, UPM and Metsa Group leading the charge to use byproducts from pulp to create textiles, biofuels, and engineered wood products. (Photo Credit: Esa Hiltula via I Stock Images by Getty Images)

Yesterday, Wood Central spoke to Mr Mayes, who is at the forefront of the push to create higher-value and renewable products, and said that lignin, a waste byproduct from the pulp industry, and cellulose are now being used as an alternative or added to a wide range of carbon-intensive materials to “green up.”

Mr Mayes, who advises MDF Recovery Ltd, UK,  behind the world’s first MDF recycling process enabling the transition to the circular economy, is working with companies across Europe and Worldwide (including a number of Forest Products companies in Australia such as Timberlink) to develop the next generation of wood-based products.

“Industry is now integrating cellulose from wood into cement, used in concrete structures,” Mr Mayes said, “it enables the speed of curing of the concrete structure to be increased and even 3D printed, and at the same time enhances the strength of the concrete, and similar fuctionality has been found with lignin, it may also reduce the amount of corrosion susceptable steel needed to reinforce the concrete.”

Finnish scientists claim that lignin - up to 20 to 30 per cent of the wood composite - is vital to driving greener construction materials, fashion and critical road infrastructure. (Photo Credit: Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)
Finnish scientists claim that lignin – up to 20 to 30 per cent of the wood composite – is vital to driving greener construction materials, fashion and critical road infrastructure. (Photo Credit: Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)

According to Mr Mayes, our whole approach to forest products must shift: “Having a holistic view of products and the broader industry eco-system is really important,” adding that “there is an entire body of work evolving on this,” with the industry now using new technologies to manufacture products on demand.

“In Finland and Sweden, there has always been a tradition of multi-sector integration, with the big forest companies having pulp mills, paper mills, board mills, sawmills and most recently mass timber plants combined in an industrial eco-system – such as the Bio Products Mill concept of Metsä Group,” he said.

“These are highly integrated companies,” Mr Mayes said, adding that the companies “look at the synergies between the different processing, equipment, machinery, and raw materials…they’re highly efficient operations, there is no spare chips, bark or sawdust, it’s all used.”

According to Hans Sohlström, CEO of Stora Enso, the challenge is to develop new products and find a new market for higher-value products. “It is just a question of cost, which product concepts to use, and how to do it all economically. That’s the challenge.”

Duncan Mayes will be a panellist at the TimberConstruct conference in Melbourne from August 12 to 13, 2024. Participating in the “Unlocking Timber’s Potential” session, Mr Mayes’s presentation will explore “Engineered Wood Products of the Future.”

TimberConstruct is Australia’s largest timber construction conference and exhibition, focused on materials and design, prefabrication, and building techniques. To learn more, visit TimberConstruct’s website.

  • Stay tuned for Wood Central’s exclusive interview with Duncan Mayes in the coming weeks.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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