The process uses tiny bubbles of air mixed to a water-fibre suspension to expand the use of natural fibres in the production of recyclable and lightweight products.
20% reduction in drying costs in papermaking
It claims some products can be lightened by 15%–25% and the most recent results indicate about 20% reduction in drying costs in papermaking.
The process can be used in the production of porous, lightweight, non-woven and insulation material.
Harri Kiiskinen, principal scientist leading the project, VTT, told FoodProductionDaily, the two-and-a-half year project has received backing from the European Regional Development Fund, via the Regional Council of Central Finland.
“The time is right to proceed with intensive pilot tests with industrial partners,” he said.
“There are several positive results both from the laboratory on a pilot scale. Industry is seeking to increase resource-efficiency (raw materials, energy, water) and looking for ways to manufacture value added products, both of which foam forming offers tempting possibilities.”
20 industrial partners
Kiiskinen said the project has raised extensive interest with 20 industrial partners from Finland, North America, Europe and Asia; Albany International, BillerudKorsnäs, Domtar Paper Company, International Paper Company, Irving Paper, Kemira, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Kuraray Europe, Lenzing Aktiengesellschaft, Metsä Board, Moorim, Pixact, Sappi, Smurfit Kappa Group, Sofidel, Stora Enso, Sulzer Pumps Finland, UPM-Kymmene, Valmet and Wetend Technologies.
“The main work has been split in two projects (KOTVA and TESTAA), which have been funded by the European regional development fund,” he added.
“The technology was scaled up in the KOTVA project whereas the TESTAA project concentrated on finding innovative ideas from small and medium size companies and to boost development at VTT’s research centre.
“The trials were carried out at VTT, Jyväskylä, Finland as well as several smaller project and confidential customer studies, which have concentrated on the development of different products.
“The companies who participated in the KOTVA project were UPM, Stora Enso, M-real, Metso, Kemira, Omya, Wetend Technologies and Vision Systems, and the cities of Jyväskylä, Äänekoski and Jämsä.”
Large companies participating in the TESTAA project were Albany International, BillerudKorsnäs, Valmet, Omya, Sappi and SMEs: CH Polymers, Epira, Faintend, Fibertus, Kurikka Timber, Lunacomp Oy, NaturVention, Nemcel, Onbone, Piiroinen, Pixact, Procemex, Profile Pros, Renotech, Sharpcell, Sinoco Chemicals, Sofi-filtration, WetEnd Technologies, Vicover, Vision Systems.
“There are several challenges to be overcome both in regarding the optimal process as well as how to engineer the products properly,” said Kiiskinen.
“Naturally, the foam technology won’t bring benefits for all products but in general there are no major disadvantages. Perhaps one ‘disadvantage’ for some products is the more open structure of the sheet, which implies there is need to consider what kind of changes will be required in converting or printing.
“We see a big potential of foam forming in several packaging products. There is potential to manufacture several boards used for food.”
Launched in February 2015, the project is a continuation of development work which began as part of the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster FIBIC's research programme in 2008.
It will look at how current paper and board machines can be converted to foam forming and at the same time, support Europe to achieve its low-carbon, resource-efficiency goals and promote the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster's research strategy, to develop smart and resource-efficient production technologies.