The combination of strong design competence and cutting-edge cellulose-based
technologies can result in new commercially successful brands. The aim is for
fibre from wood-based biomass to replace both cotton production, which burdens
the environment, and polyester production, which consumes oil. A research
project launched by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aalto University
and Tampere University of Technology aims to create new business models and
ecosystems in Finland through design-driven cellulose products.
The joint research project is called Design Driven Value Chains in the World
of Cellulose (DWoC). The objective is to develop cellulose-based products
suitable for technical textiles and consumer products. The technology could
also find use in the pharmaceutical, food and automotive industries. Another
objective is to build a new business ecosystem and promote spin-offs.
The breakthrough for these new products and services is expected to take a few
years. State-of-the-art cellulose processing technologies could generate
production value of up to EUR 2–3 billion in Finland's forestry, textile and
mechanical engineering industries, and in entirely new business sectors.
This is one of two strategic projects launched by Tekes – Finnish Funding
Agency for Technology and Innovation intended to help transform Finnish
business life. The project received nearly EUR 3 million in funding from Tekes
for the opening research stages in 2013–2015.
Designers envision consumer products of the future
Aalto University students participate in the project by offering fresh new
perspectives on Finnish cellulose products.
“The research project provides an opportunity to use design methods to turn
cellulose raw material into products, services and business. Designers
contribute to the project by introducing an experimental method of creating
prototypes, as well as the ability to visualise something that doesn't yet
exist. This allows us to take consumer perspective into account at different
stages of the programme," explains Professor Pirjo Kääriäinen
from the Aalto University's Department of Design.
According to Kääriäinen, design as a strategic resource in the industry is so
far relatively untapped. As a working method, industrial design brings a
user-focused perspective to the project, opening new and unexplored
opportunities for commercial use of the materials and for envisioning new
products. This work combines with the creation of business ecosystems in line
with the principles of sustainable development.
New materials and technologies are a source of inspiration to designers. The
first sessions with technology developers were filled with excitement and
bursts of innovation. For researchers, the notion of design needs affecting
the material being created was particularly interesting.
New technologies in yarn manufacture
Researchers seek to combine Finnish design competence with cutting-edge
technological developments to utilise the special characteristics of cellulose
to create products that feature the best qualities of materials such as cotton
and polyester. Product characteristics achieved by using new manufacturing
technologies and nanocellulose as a structural fibre element include
recyclability and individual production.
The first tests performed by professor Olli Ilkkala's team at the Aalto
University showed that the self-assembly of cellulose fibrils in wood permits
the fibrils to be spun into strong yarn.
VTT has developed an industrial process that produces yarn from cellulose
fibres without the spinning process. VTT has also developed efficient
applications of the foam forming method for manufacturing materials that
"In the future, combining different methods will enable production of
individual fibre structures and textile products, even by using 3D printing
technology," says Professor Ali Harlin from VTT.
Usually the price of a textile product is the key criterion even though
produced sustainably. New methods help significantly to shorten the
manufacturing chain of existing textile products and bring it closer to
consumers to respond to their rapidly changing needs. Projects are currently
under way where the objective is to replace wet spinning with extrusion
technology. The purpose is to develop fabric manufacturing methods where
several stages of weaving and knitting are replaced without losing the key
characteristics of the textile, such as the way it hangs.
Finland's logging residue to replace environmentally detrimental cotton
Cotton textiles account for about 40% of the world's textile markets, and
oil-based polyester for practically the remainder. Cellulose-based fibres make
up 6% of the market. Although cotton is durable and comfortable to wear,
cotton production is highly water-intensive, and artificial fertilisers and
chemical pesticides are often needed to ensure a good crop. The surface area
of cotton-growing regions globally equates to the size of Finland.
Approximately 5–6 million tons of fibre could be manufactured from Finland's
current logging residue (25–30 million cubic metres/year). This could replace
more than 20% of globally produced cotton, at the same time reducing carbon
dioxide emissions by 120–150 million tons, and releasing enough farming land
to grow food for 18–25 million people. Desertification would also decrease by
approximately 10 per cent.
Cellulose fibre yarn made directly from pine fibres at VTT. Yarn diameter in
is 100 µm. Photographer: Pekka Rötkönen
VTT develops industrial process of cellulose fibre yarn. The photo shows how
the yarn can be pulled even by hand from the fibre raw material. Photographer: