Most of Europe's forests are in Finland, covering over 70 percent of the land area. The forest industry plays a crucial role in the Finnish economy and now there is more emphasis on how renewable raw materials can replace fossil-based materials.
Finnish startup Montinutra has developed a novel, highly sustainable, zero-waste closed-loop manufacturing methods to extract ingredients from forest waste products such as sawdust and bark for second-life uses.
This week the company announced a partnership with a Finnish producer of natural personal care products, Ole Hyvä, to bring its Boreal Bioproducts® SpruceSugar™ into the consumer market for the very first time.
I spoke to Antti Kämäräinen, Market Development Director at Montinutra, to learn more.
SpruceSugar™ (derived from wood sugars) is a 100% natural hemicellulose extract from sustainable spruce sawmilling side streams. It serves as a substitute for analogue chemicals and polysaccharides.
It contains antioxidants and SPF-boosting capabilities and can be used for various purposes in skin and hair care products, such as emulsifying and natural colouring.
SpruceSugar™ helps with wrinkle-smoothing, hydration and sun protection and helps increase the antioxidant capacity of personal care products. For example, helping mitigate the oxidative stress caused by hair dye. It also has the potential to inhibit inflammation.
All products in the Boreal Bioproducts® Montinutra range are vegan and biodegradable.
A well-managed infinite resource
Kämäräinen explained that around 60-70% of Finnish forest land is privately owned and managed by families for generations:
"The passing down from generation to generation encourages responsible forestry. Our company has a connection with the sustainable forest industry as we use logs from sustainably managed and certified forests.
In Finland, our forest and supply chain are very transparent, and we can even track and trace where the goods have been harvested."
Also, what sets Montinutra apart is that its not dependent on crop seasons but enjoys a steady flow of raw materials throughout the year.
In 2021 Metsä Group, a cooperative owned by some 90,000 private Finnish forest owners and one of the biggest forestry companies in Finland, invested in Montinutra via its innovation arm Metsä Spring. Its investments enabled the company to upscale from a laboratory scale to develop its own pilot factory.
SpruceSugar™ was developed at a record speed – it went from the testing phase into a consumer product in just 14 months, showing infinite opportunity for manufacturing at scale.
An abundance of compelling commercial use cases
Montinutra is seeking partners for further development in cosmetics and various chemicals.
There's also interest in the food and beverage market, "where Kämäräinen explains "some studies claim that our ingredient is as good as guar gum as a modifier."
Wood sugar also has other potential use cases. For example, developing bio-latex, which appears in products such as paint and glue. Additionally, health-beneficial Qusitol® obtained from sawdust has shown potential for treating lower urinary tract symptoms.
Montinutra's commercialization of wood sugar as a sustainable alternative to harmful chemicals is a positive step towards creating a more circular and environmentally-friendly economy.
Transforming multiple industries towards its ingredients shows how innovation can improve sustainability and create valuable consumer and industrial products. I look forward to seeing the rollout of further use cases.