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Metsä Group's innovative bioproduct mill is a world first

January 31, 2018

Demand for bioproducts is growing rapidly. In August 2017, the world’s first next-generation bioproduct mill was started up as planned in Äänekoski, Finland. Built by Metsä Group, the world-class mill’s annual pulp production capacity is 1.3 million tons. In addition to delivering five industrial cranes to the mill, Konecranes built a pioneering automatic train loading system for pulp units.

Äänekoski is situated in the Central Finland region and features some 170 lakes. A town with a long industrial history, pulp and board have been produced there since the 19th century.

The new bioproduct mill was built on the present mill site, where it serves the existing forest industry. It replaced a pulp mill, which, opened in 1985, was nearing the end of its life cycle. The new mill’s production capacity is nearly three times greater than that of the previous pulp mill of Äänekoski.

Construction of the first next-generation bioproduct mill commenced in 2015. In October 2017, it was inaugurated by Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland. At EUR 1.2 billion, it represents the largest investment in the history of the Finnish forest industry.

“The forest industry continues to be a key export sector and a major employer in Finland. Its economic importance is emphasized by the fact that raw materials and services needed in production are mainly sourced from Finland,” Niinistö stated at the ceremony. “Metsä Group’s Äänekoski bioproduct mill is an example of the forest industry of the new era. Its positive impacts on the Finnish economy are substantial.”

“With an annual production capacity of 1.3 million tons of high-quality pulp, bioenergy and various other bioproducts, including for example tall oil, turpentine, and product gas, among others, the bioproduct mill is the largest wood-processing plant in the Northern Hemisphere,” says Camilla Wikström, Senior Vice President of Production at Pulp Business of Metsä Fibre, a subsidiary of Metsä Group. “Pulp is experiencing growth at a rate of 1 to 1.5% per year, and demand is on the rise especially in Asia.”

From an economic perspective, the bioproduct mill is expected to boost Finland’s income from exports by EUR 0.5 billion per year. In terms of creating employment, its effect throughout the value chain within the country will be 2,500 jobs, of which 1,500 are new jobs. The most significant effects on employment are anticipated to be gained in the forest industry and transport.

Design and development factors

Wikström explains that at the core of the Äänekoski project are three pillars which have been present in all stages of its design and development.

The first is environmental efficiency. Even though its production capacity is nearly three times higher than the previous pulp mill of Äänekoski, the bioproduct mill is operating within the same emission limits and wastewater conditions of the previous mill’s environmental permit.

The second is energy efficiency. The new mill maximizes the amount of energy that can be sold to consumers. Annually, it produces 2.4 times more electricity than it consumes, and it is increasing the share of renewable energy in Finland by more than 2 percentage points.

Lastly, the bioproducts themselves played a key role in design and development. The focus on efficiency and sustainability is present in every aspect of the next-generation facility – from the production process to the equipment installed. For example, the automatic train loading system and other cranes delivered by Konecranes are specifically designed to support the efficiency objectives of the overall project.

World-class mill

Alongside the automatic train loading system, Konecranes delivered five industrial cranes. These are in the debarking and production line, dryer and power station. “The new automatic train loading system is working well and helping to enable the safe and efficient loading of trains at the new mill,” reports Arto Hujanen, Director and Head of Paper and Forest Industry at Konecranes. “Working together as part of the production process, the cranes and train system play a critical role in keeping operations flowing smoothly.”

Hujanen says that traditionally, trains have been loaded by forklifts from the side of the train wagon. “Issues with this method include the risk of accidents and lost time incidents, as well as damage to pulp units, to name a few. The automatic train loading system helps to reduce the need for people to work in the loading area,” he elaborates.

The bioproduct mill at Äänekoski is the biggest wood processing plant in the Northern Hemisphere.

Every day, two trains are loaded at Äänekoski, and the pulp units are transported to Vuosaari in East Helsinki for storage and further delivery. The cranes can load a train in three hours, which they currently do twice a day.

Utilizing two cranes, the automatic train loading system stacks pulp units into railway wagons. The automatic cranes have a span of 18 meters and a total payload lifting capacity of 32 tons. Fully automated, the cranes will feed the trains twice a day as well as fill the 1,400-ton buffer storage daily.

Loading from above is more efficient and was made possible in this case with the use of a tarp door design, based on a solution created by Metsä Fibre in cooperation with VR, the Finnish state-owned railway company. The tarp is opened and closed manually – first over one side for loading, and then pulled back to allow the full loading of the wagon. This enables the execution of two lifts per wagon, with each railway wagon carrying 64 tons of pulp each and with the capacity to load the entire train even in three hours.

Safer operations

No one is allowed in the loading area when the crane is operating in automatic mode. The automatic crane system has an interface which controls personnel access to the area, and is used to prevent entry to the loading bay when automatic mode is in use. The cranes are equipped with a driver cabin allowing manual operation if necessary.

At the bioproduct mill, Metsä Group is also taking advantage of the benefits offered by Konecranes’ TRUCONNECT remote service. Support centers are available 24/7 to help solve any possible issues and offer expertise to help reduce any downtime.

“If an alert is raised, the crane will send data in realtime so Konecranes experts can see exactly what is happening. An alert will also be issued to the maintenance staff on call at that moment,” Hujanen states. “We have teams working around the clock in support centers around the world, from Hyvinkää, in Finland, to Asia, to the United States.”

For customers, TRUCONNECT is really about peace of mind, beyond delivering equipment to a project. According to Wikström, TRUCONNECT gives Metsä Fibre confidence and brings dependability to the important final stage of the production process. “The storage facility at Äänekoski is quite small, so the pulp units must be transported twice a day by rail as efficiently and reliably as possible to the larger storage facility in Vuosaari,” she says.

Partnering with Konecranes

According to both Hujanen and Wikström, the partnership and its success are rooted in the people who have been involved in the development of this world-class facility and those who are working at the mill today. Having a clear agreement on technical specifications, for example, is vital to achieving a favorable outcome.

As Wikström concludes, “A successful partnership involves trust and dependability, as well as the desire to succeed across the teams concerned. Open communication and discipline are critical in meeting tight deadlines.”


Text: Kristian Orispää
Photos: Metsä Group


At Metsä Group’s new bioproduct mill, Konecranes’ new, innovative automatic train loading system is capable of moving 1,100 tons of pulp per hour onto railway wagons.

  1. Konecranes delivered five cranes and the automatic train loading system to Äänekoski to support the production of 1.3 million tons of pulp per annum.
  2. The automatic train loading system offers a fast, clean and energy-efficient turnaround for trains transporting pulp units.
  3. The solution has raised interest in the pulp industry globally, as a proven, safer and more efficient alternative in comparison to existing methods for loading trains.