Biolan’s new Biofiber Factory produces ecological wood fiber to replace peat in substrate and bulking products
Finnish ecological gardening and environmental product company Biolan has invested in a new type of biomaterial processing plant in Eura, Finland. The new plant produces wood fiber from forest industry side streams that can be used to replace peat in its substrate and bulking products. Developing the advanced plant required not only solid design expertise but also a bold and open-minded approach to innovation.
Biolan has traditionally used white peat moss in its substrate and bulking products because it binds water and nutrients well and then releases them slowly to the plants. However, the supply of white peat moss has been impacted by the rising price of fuel peat due to increased taxation and the rising price of emission rights.
Biolan has been exploring alternatives to peat for a long time already. One of the most promising substitutes is wood. Wood fiber is an ecological and rapidly renewable raw material that provides substrate products with suitable airiness and an optimal structure for plant roots.
“With the help of wood fibers, we can move away from very slowly renewable peat to a rapidly renewable material,” says Dr. Petri Konttinen, Technical Director at Biolan Group.
Multi-year research work behind the new Biofiber Factory
Biolan began researching wood fibers in 2018. Even though wood fibers that had been developed for substrates already existed at the time, Biolan saw room for improvement in their quality. The company also participated in a project exploring peat-free, climate-friendly substrates and bedding materials financed by Business Finland.
“We tested different biomaterials and their combinations to see how plants grow with each mixture. Ultimately, we found the wood fiber which worked best,” explains Konttinen.
According to Konttinen, wood fiber can be used in substrate products for professional cultivation, bedding for livestock production, and mulch products for gardeners.
Biolan has been exploring alternatives to peat for a long time already. One of the most promising substitutes is wood.
State funding awarded for important project
Based on the results of its research, Biolan submitted a funding application to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s nutrient recycling pilot program. The company wanted to invest in a biofiber factory that could utilize, for example, waste wood chips from sawmills to produce compostable biofiber.
The application yielded results, and Biolan’s plant project was able to start in 2021 under the management of the South Ostrobothnia Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.
“Wood fiber is a raw material for us whose production chain we wanted to keep in our own hands,” Konttinen explains.
Project begins with bold innovation
Consulting and engineering partner Elomatic was involved right from the outset having previously helped Biolan with other plant projects. It was already known at this stage that the wood chips had to be processed without using additives and that there would be two end products: pure wood fiber and a mixture of wood fiber and rapidly renewable peat biomass.
“We needed a partner to consider, for example, how the equipment should be placed to make plant operations as cost-effective as possible and what kind of material and energy flows should be taken into account,” explains Konttinen.
According to Pasi Leimu, Project Manager at Elomatic, their work began by brainstorming ideas on how the plant could be implemented, as well as evaluating the suitability of the equipment suppliers identified by Biolan for its production needs.
“Usually, it is my role to produce innovative ideas that could achieve the objective. In this case, it was rewarding to develop the process together with an expert customer,” Leimu says.
Rapid progress after investment decision
Once the parameters for the pre-planning phase began to take shape, a budget and schedule were drawn up for the project and planning could begin.
“Elomatic was responsible for plant, process and electrical design and ensuring that everything at the plant works together in the best possible way,” Leimu says, explaining the role of Elomatic.
Construction work was completed in September 2022. Production is now running in three shifts, and the new peat-free product is already being delivered to retailers.
Our technology is unique, even on a global scale.Petri Konttinen
Test cultivations demonstrate quality of Biolan’s wood fibers
It is Biolan’s practice to test all product lots under standardized conditions. These test cultivations have demonstrated that the end products produced by the new plant maintain growth better or at least as well as other wood fibers purchased on the European market. This is due to the advanced process through which several benefits have been obtained.
“We experiment with different combinations to find the best recipe for each plant. We have learnt how to use peat, and in the same way we need to learn how to use wood fiber and a mixture of wood fiber and bog biomass,” Konttinen confirms.
“In addition, we take customer feedback into account in our development work,” he adds.
Plans to expand production
Biolan’s new plant is the first in Finland to produce wood fiber for substrate and bulking products.
“Our target is to achieve annual capacity of 200,000 cubic meters,” says Petri Konttinen regarding Biolan’s future plans.
Elomatic’s Pasi Leimu says that he is glad to have been able to participate in this project.
“It is always fascinating to develop something completely new. In the beginning, we could not even be sure if we would succeed. That is what is so rewarding about developing work, when you look for the right path to reach the goal and finally achieve it,” he describes.
For his part, Konttinen is proud to have been able to participate in developing a process that utilizes renewable and recycled raw materials.
“Our technology is unique, even on a global scale,” he emphasizes.