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Successful start-up of a third-generation biorefinery

A demonstration scale biorefinery based on Chempolis’ Formico® technology for processing non-wood and non-food raw materials – such as straw, grass, bagasse, and leaf fibre – into high-quality pulp, biochemicals, and biofuels is now operational.

Chempolis recently started up a third-generation biorefinery in Finland as a demonstration-scale facility for converting various forms of biomass into value-added products, such as fibre for papermaking, biofuels, and biochemicals. The technology behind the plant is based on Chempolis’ own Formico® platform, which covers both the process itself and the key equipment used.

The main purpose of the plant – which is being run on non-wood and non-food raw materials, such as straw, bagasse, and other agricultural residues – is to give customers a first-hand look at Chempolis’ state-of-the-art technology and demonstrate selective fractionation of customer-sourced biomasses on an industrial scale.

The biorefinery will produce quantities of output for testing product properties, such as fibre for trials on high-speed paper machines, and will also generate detailed data for dimensioning the machinery and systems needed for full-scale industrial biorefineries.

The biorefinery is part of the Chempolis Technology Centre in northern Finland, which also has advanced laboratories for process analysis and R&D.

The chemical recovery area and tank farm of Chempolis’ new demonstration-scale biorefinery based on the company’s proprietary Formico® process and key equipment technology.

Non-wood papermaking fibre

Increasing quantities of agricultural residues will be needed to make paper in the future, as insufficient wood is available locally in the world’s growing paper markets, forest resources are declining, and growing environmental pressures are being put on the use of wood.

Residual non-wood materials such as straw, bagasse, and reeds, in contrast, are widely available in large volumes in countries like China and India, and are inexpensive. More than 5 billion tonnes of agricultural residues alone are generated annually, which is more than 10 times the amount of wood used annually by the world’s pulp and paper industry.

Chempolis has developed FormicoFib™ as a cutting-edge technology for producing high-quality pulp for paper and board, packaging, and hygiene products from non-wood feedstocks.

The FormicoFib™ process offers a better chemistry than current technologies, is simpler, and also requires lower levels of chemical and raw water inputs. This makes for a highly streamlined cost structure. As the process helps preserve forest resources and does not generate net carbon dioxide emissions, it is also very environmentally sustainable.

Formic acid is the key chemical in the biosolvent used in this and other Formico® processes. The acidic environment this creates prevents silicates from dissolving, and makes it possible to completely recover chemicals, dissolved solids, and water. Recovered dissolved solids can be combusted, generating sufficient energy to cover the needs of the process.

Biofuels and biochemicals

To avoid creating new problems by using food crops as raw materials – and possibly contributing to higher food prices and food shortages in the process – the only long-term way forward for biofuels is to use non-food feedstocks, such as agricultural residues and dedicated energy crops cultivated on marginal land.

FormicoBio™ has been designed as a third-generation biorefining technology for manufacturing high-grade biofuels, particularly ethanol, from these types of raw materials. Thanks to its simple but advanced chemistry, FormicoBio™ can circumvent the main problems associated with first- and second-generation technologies.

The third member of the Formico® family is the FormicoChem™ process, which can be added to a Formico® biorefinery to enable the co-production of bioacetic acid, furfural, and lignin. In addition to being the main component of vinegar, acetic acid is used as a raw material in producing paints, adhesives, and plastics; while furfural, a trace compound found in brandy and bread, is used industrially as a solvent and a raw material for resins.

3-D model of the fibre line of a demonstration-scale Formico® biorefinery.

Cooperating with UPM


Chempolis granted a license to UPM – one of the world’s leading forest products groups and a key producer of printing paper, self-adhesive label materials, and wood products – in 2008 to make use of the Formico® technology platform in the production of papermaking fibres and biochemicals.

UPM has set itself the target of building an industrial-scale biorefinery utilising agricultural residues in China, where it has a major presence in conventional papermaking and where such residues are available in abundance, while wood-based papermaking fibres are in short supply. UPM’s Asia R&D Centre is actively researching the potential of agro residues for use in pulp production.

> Esa Rousu
(Published in HighTech Finland 2009)