Estonian company to open Järva County biomaterials pilot plant in 2023

Fibenol co-owner Raul Kirjanen.
Fibenol co-owner Raul Kirjanen. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A pilot project will see a plant which produces various chemicals derived from woody biomass may open in Imavere, Järva County next year, to be followed by a larger facility several years later. Investors involved in the project had previously looked at sites in Latvia, however, and no firm location has been decided on for the larger site, due to start work in 2028.

The pilot plant, to be opened by sustainable biomaterials firm Fibenol, will produce cellulosic sugars and lignin,  a complex plant-derived polymer found in the cell walls of almost all dry-land plants, which can be used in a variety of different industrial applications including construction materials and cosmetics. 

The initiative will create around 100 jobs, ERR reports.

Raul Kirjanen, one of Fibenol's owners and reportedly the second-largest landowner in Estonia after the state, told ERR that the necessary raw materials would be available in Estonia, he added. "Primarily, the raw material is birch - at the Imavere pilot plant we would use, for instance, birch wood residues derived from the plywood industry, and also from hardwood more broadly."

"Based on current forest management practice, Estonia has sufficient resources to construct around two industrial wood fractionation plants," he went on.

During the search for the potential location for the proposed plant, Fibenol also liaised with Estonian state institutions and municipalities, Kirjanen said. "The first meetings have been constructive in all regards and with a proactive attitude, since this type of globally unique innovation in the field of bio-resource added value does not happen very often," he said.

It is not yet clear where the principal factory will be constructed, following the trial period, but it should be finished by 2028, Kirjanen said.

The pilot plant should go online at the start of 2023, and should be fully operational in the second or third quarter of next year, Kirjanen said.

Kirjanen had told business daily Äripäev (link in Estonian) that Latvia, where Graanul Invest, nother Kirjanen firm, has long-term experience, was looking like the preferred option over Estonia; as to a location in Estonia, Krijanen told ERR that no firm decision has been made yet, but is likely within the next six months.

"The modular design makes it possible to build factories of different sizes according to resource availability, location, etc." he added.

Around 100 new jobs will be directly created as a result of the new plant's establishment, while in future development, businesses could branch off in the bio sector which would develop end products based on Fibenol-produced biomaterials, he said.

Peep Pitkin, the company's R&D director, said that C5 (hardwood) and C6 (soft wood) cellulosic sugars as well as lignin would be the main products, and would be sold to various companies across the EU – including those engaged in road building, where lignin could replace the less environmentally-friendly bitumen, construction materials, and the cosmetics industry.

Fibenol is wholly Estonian-owned, and there are no plans to expand the circle of owners in the case of the pilot industrial plant, Kirjanen said, adding that co-investment within the European industrial sector was high, meaning: "The involvement of some strategic investors cannot be ruled out."

The final plant to be completed in or by 2028 would cost around half-a-billion euros.

Fibenol is a 100 percent private equity-based company focused on creating sustainable biomaterials, the company says on its website.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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