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Cellulose-based fibres will open a new future for Finnish textile industry

A new Business Finland case study conducted by Gaia Consulting reveals that Finnish success stories of biobased textiles rest on strong R&D support. However, the lack of mid-sized technology and solution providers as well as investment decisions for demonstration plants slow down the commercialization and scaling up of production.

In Finland bioeconomy has mainly been based on structures that rely on the forest sector value chains. Ongoing developments extend the value chain of forest-biomass to new applications in the cellulose-based textiles sector and thus diversify it to new business areas where added value is higher. The non-woven textile industry market is estimated to reach 47,7 billion euros in 2020. “Cellulose fibers can be utilized in all textiles that can replace cotton and viscose which both have sustainability issues related to their production. Government strategy in Finland aims to double the current bioeconomy turnover from 60 billion euros to 100 billion euros before 2025,” says Tuula Savola, Program Manager of Business Finland’s BioNets program.

SUCCESS STORIES ARE BORN FROM R&D AND COLLABORATION

Business Finland, previously Tekes, and Finpro have been the main supportive bodies for facilitation of growth of the cellulosic textiles as a new potential business area in Finland. “Finland has also been able to build up an innovation ecosystem around cellulosic textiles including a thriving startup community as well as pilot projects and facilities with significant growth potential. Collaboration across the value chain has been essential for accelerating innovations,” says Dr. Solveig Roschier, Leading Consultant of Gaia Consulting.

The cellulose-based textile innovation ecosystem consists of traditional big companies like UPM, Stora Enso and Metsä, innovative startups, research organizations such as Aalto University and VTT and companies such as Marimekko. New ventures and commercialization projects are pushing the Finnish cellulosic textile innovations forward rapidly. These include success stories like Ioncell-F, Spinnova and Infinited Fiber Company. Ioncell-F is a technology for producing man-made cellulose textile fibres. The cross-industrial collaboration combining technical knowledge from the pulp and paper industry with the fabric industry provides an alternative to cotton. Spinnova’s patented spinning technology produces textile fibre from pulp without harmful chemicals. Infinited Fiber Company has a technology for turning cotton rich textile waste into new fibres for the textile industry. The technology can be integrated into existing pulp and dissolving pulp plants.

LACK OF INVESTMENT DECISIONS FOR DEMO-PLANTS SLOW DOWN THE COMMERCIALIZATION

Based on the findings of the OECD report, cellulose-based textile innovation ecosystem in Finland could be further strengthened by stronger textile industry presence in the value chain. Lack of mid-sized technology and solution providers as well as investment decisions for demonstration plants slow down the commercialization and scaling up of production. Further networking is crucial to increasing knowledge about new business areas and customer needs. In order to meet needs on the market, it is important to integrate the perspective of clients to the work along the entire value chain.

As for potential application areas, all types of new cellulosic fabric products are being developed, for example fabrics for clothes and furniture, technical and professional textiles, as well as hygienic textiles and medical textiles such as bandages. “Overall Finland has excellent prerequisites to provide viable cellulose-based solutions to the vast and growing textile market which is bound to change in the coming years due to sustainability issues related to its present raw materials basis and production technologies,” Business Finland’s Savola concludes.

Innovation Ecosystems in a Sustainable Bioeconomy – A Finnish case study for OECD was part of the comparative OECD survey on bioeconomy development and related innovation policy in various countries and was based on a literature review and interviews of 20 key market players. This article was originally released on the Business Finland website.

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