Spinnova is developing a method of spinning yarn from wood fibres without environmentally harmful chemical processing.
Janne Poranen has had a long career with VTT. In the last few years before he joined Spinnova, he was in charge of VTT’s research area focusing on the development of fibre- and bio-based materials. In particular, he was involved in running R&D projects related to wood-based materials.
Poranen had long aimed to start a business as soon as the right idea came along. He had been following the development of the new wood-fibre technology from its very beginning.
– A year ago, we entered a situation where the best prospect of taking the technology forward was in the form of a commercial venture. Juha Salmela, my colleague from VTT, had no doubts about participating in the start-up of the company.
Spinnova was established last autumn and officially opened for business in Jyväskylä in January. A small but motivated group of wood-fibre experts is now working in Jyväskylä.
The first task was to find partners and financiers. The company succeeded wonderfully in both.
The spider’s web idea
At the turn of the decade, Juha Salmela was a Senior Scientist at VTT. He had the idea for the yarn when working alongside silk researchers at the University of Oxford. The discussions helped him to see the similarities between the construction of a spider’s web and the formation of wood fibres.
Would the manufacture of yarn from wood fibre succeed based on the ‘spider’s web’ principle? Can wood fibres form in the same direction and become something very like a filament fibre?
A method was quickly developed. Salmela filed an invention notification for the new wood fibre processing method in 2011, and the first patent application at the end of the year.
The invention is based on understanding the behaviour of various materials i.e. fibre suspension flows – rheology. This answers the question of how a fibre flow can be controlled in such a way that it forms a yarn.
– Salmela’s idea was tried out at VTT. The first trials showed that wood yarn could be made by passing pulp through a pinhole, so long as the fibres passed through in the right position. Several development stages lie ahead before wood-based yarn can be spun on an industrial scale.
The method was developed up to laboratory scale at VTT, until it became a smoothly working process. Half-metre lengths of yarn were made without continuous yarn processes.
– At Spinnova, we now need to scale the technique to industrial level.
– We have tried out the method with various types of wood pulp. We achieved the best results with Finnish wood types – spruce and pine. It looks as though the method works best when processing long natural fibres, which is a good thing from Finland’s perspective. Eucalyptus fibres are short, for example.
– We are currently developing the controllability and stability of the basic process for the method. After that, we will focus on refining the properties of the end product, says Poranen.
Spinnova started the development with small Finnish design company WoodNotes. WoodNotes manufactures fabrics and mats from paper yarns.
The Austrian company Lenzing AG is Spinnova’s industrial partner. Lenzing is one the biggest MMC (Man-Made Cellulose) companies. It uses a viscose and lyocell process to make textile fibres from wood-based material.
Spinnova’s technology is the only one capable of spinning yarn directly from wood fibres. In viscose and other MMC processes, pulp is run through a succession of chemical processes which dissolve the cellulose fibres into polymers, while removing certain components. Only after this are the fibres reconstituted from the polymer pulp. The yarn is finally spun from staple fibres.
– Our method differs from current MMC processes. We spin the yarn directly from the cellulose pulp. No one has ever been able to do this before, says Poranen.
– This will create a much smaller environmental footprint than modern polymer or cotton fibre processes. Currently raw material demand for textiles increases faster than production of cotton and MMC. This creates a great need for new breakthrough technologies to fulfill future textile demand.
Poranen does not deny that the method involves risks. Spinnova’s plans include the development of a small-scale production environment within 2 to 3 years.
– At the moment we are in the development phase of the technology. Next we will move on to testing the markets and decide on whether to begin the larger-scale industrial phase.
Spinnova was founded by Poranen and Salmela. Private investors, as well as VTT Ventures and industrial partners joined Spinnova at the end of 2014.
– VTT has many good ideas for similar technology start-ups. But to get things moving, we need more entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking.
Spinnova won the international biorefinery competition of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy’s in February with its business plan. The panel mentioned that Spinnova’s fibre yarn represents a breakthrough technology that could revolutionise both the textile and forest industries, and form the basis of major business activities.
Juha Salmela (left) and Janne Poranen founded Spinnova in 2014. Photo:Mikko Vähäniitty
- An R&D company which is developing a yarn thread technology that originated at VTT
- Based in Jyväskylä in Central Finland
- Founded by Janne Poranen and Juha Salmela
- Financed by Markku Kaloniemi, Yrjö Neuvo, Timo Soininen, VTT Ventures Ltd, Lenzing AG and Besodos Oy
- Established in 2014