At Fiberwood The Industrial Application of Jani Lehmonen’s Extensive Research Work Sees the Light of Day

Jani Lehmonen’s long-term research and development work is now, after a quarter of a century, culminating in the emergence of an industrial application. As this innovation has journeyed from the research lab to the factory line, the world around it has evolved and matured. In our Fossil Free series of expert presentations, we continue to delve into Fiberwood’s technological expertise.

The concept of the circular economy has been discussed since the early stages of Jani Lehmonen’s career. At the turn of the millennium, nobody had even heard of startups, and the forestry and paper industries had their methods set in stone. Now, as Fiberwood’s Technology and Product Development Manager, Jani is witnessing a time when patience and hard work are being rewarded.

“Circular economy is already being driven at the legislative level, and startups play a crucial role in the forest industry’s ecosystem. It has been extremely rewarding and encouraging to advance this change,” Jani rejoices.

Jani joined Fiberwood after a 25-year career at VTT, where he focused on applied research in the paper and board industry. In 2022, he completed his dissertation on scaling foam forming technology. The Finnish Association of Pulp and Paper Engineers awarded Jani the Niilo Ryti Prize from Aalto University for his outstanding dissertation.

“Completing my dissertation while working is one of the absolute highlights of my career. The core idea of my research is that from the early stages, it must be clear where the knowledge will be applied. What works in the lab must also work on an industrial scale. When we seek scalable solutions, it serves businesses and creates jobs and business opportunities.”

Utilising By-products to Achieve More with Less

Jani’s collaborator at the core of Fiberwood’s innovation, foam forming, is Director of Technology and Research Karita Kinnunen-Raudaskoski. Their collaboration began in 2008-2009 when Karita came to VTT to discuss foam forming. Jani was impressed by the description of foam forming technology, which planted the seed for his dissertation topic. Karita had started developing foam technologies in 2005 as a senior researcher at KCL and had conducted foam forming research on a laboratory scale. When VTT acquired KCL, foam forming research expanded.

“We had a dynamic forming environment with a model of the paper and board manufacturing process. We started modifying it for foam forming. After 15 years of working on foam forming research and testing, I am excited about the opportunity to take the technology towards an industrial application at Fiberwood,” Jani explains.

Fiberwood’s ultimate goal is to develop technologies and solutions that produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use resources efficiently.

“One person’s waste becomes another’s raw material. At Fiberwood, this idea is not just talk but a reality. We need fibre-based, higher-value-added materials and solutions to replace oil-based materials. Additionally, megatrends like resource scarcity support the idea of utilising by-products. We need to achieve more with less.”

The Outcome of Network Collaboration is Key

Jani emphasises that no one drives change alone.It requires a competent team and the ecosystem of the entire industry. Driving change has required the courage to question established practices. Selling a new technological solution that would revolutionise the entire process and solution in an established field has not been easy. However, the challenges have not discouraged Jani. On the contrary, he feels empowered by them:

“There is a solution to everything. My experience is that when there is buzz, opinions, and ideas around what you do, you are usually doing the right things. People wake up to comment, accelerate, and challenge.”

Today, startups are sought-after partners. Jani notes that while resources are more scarce than in large corporations, startups can often move things forward even faster.

Positive feedback from customers on Fiberwood’s solutions drives the entire team forward. There is demand in the market for both building products and interior packaging cushioning. In the business of by-products, more and more parties are considering how they can be utilised. There already exist operating models for collecting by-products.

“It is widely recognised that not all by-products can be burned and released as carbon dioxide through chimneys. In Fiberwood’s case, we are talking about chips that can be collected as they are, for example, from a sawmill. Chips often go to combustion to produce energy for the factory, which needs to be replaced by something. Material flows must be balanced, and new solutions are emerging for this.”

Jani envisions a sustainable and bright future for Fiberwood:

“We will be able to advance our work as a team, and the first industrial production facility in Finland is already on the horizon.”

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