Materials based on natural fibres are an interesting alternative to replace fossil-derived plastics. In the future, they may replace plastics in, for example, packaging, hygiene products, building materials and textiles. The Piloting Alternatives for Plastics project brings together a wide range of Finnish and international companies to take materials developed in laboratories towards more industrial production. The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, VTT and companies.
Plastic is an excellent material with many unique properties in, for example, packaging applications. Plastic consumption is estimated to double over the next 20 years. The biggest challenge for plastic products is their recyclability. For example, only 14% of plastic packaging is recycled, so the majority of plastic ends up being incinerated or in landfills and, unfortunately, also improperly disposed of in forests and oceans (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017).
In a three-year piloting project, VTT is working with companies to take the manufacture of new generation fibre products towards the scale of industrial production. The pilots are being carried out at VTT in Jyväskylä, with access to, among other things, the first research environment in the world to utilise the foam-forming process. The selected piloting targets include fibre-based materials to replace the plastics used in, for example, food packaging, filters, textiles as well as wiping, hygiene and construction materials.
“In this project, we are creating a new understanding of bio-based fibre networks and how, by tailoring them, we can produce new types of recyclable materials that do not burden the environment,” says Vice President Jani Lehto from VTT.
From laboratory through piloting to the product development phase
In the research of new materials, the challenge is to select the most interesting from a wide range of raw material and manufacturing options, and to reduce the time it takes to scale the results obtained on a laboratory scale to commercial production scale. The development work done in the project will result in expertise in various raw materials, equipment and manufacturing technologies. Based on the development work, companies can move to the product development phase for different solutions in company-driven projects.
The Piloting Alternatives for Plastics project started on 1 April 2020 and ends on 31 March 2023. Its total budget is EUR 6.7 million. The project is implemented with funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), VTT and companies coordinated by the Regional Council of Central Finland.
Participants in the project include 52 companies from Finland and elsewhere in Europe. A total of 28 companies from Finland are involved, of which 18 are small and medium-sized companies.