The Upper Peninsula, one of the largest forested regions in the United States, remains traditional in terms of forestry products and services. An international summit this month looks to broaden the industry's scope.
The Michigan–Finland Summit on Forest Bioproducts on Oct. 17 and 18 in Michigan Technological University's Memorial Union Building will explore opportunities in the fast-growing forest bioproducts industry. Many of the industry's major players will be on hand.
Researchers in the biomaterials industry believe the world economy needs to be reinvented, and must incorporate a shift from a dependence on fossil fuels.
“We have to turn to renewables,” says Mark Rudnicki, a professor of practice in forest biomaterials in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech and executive director of the Michigan Forest Biomaterials Institute.
Rudnicki says renewable resources go far beyond ethanol. “The low-hanging fruit has always been bioenergy, but there is potential in forest bioproducts that go beyond fuel into the production of durable goods. “
Those goods include building materials, textiles, green textile, bioplastics, packaging materials and more. “It’s been said many times that anything you can make with oil you can make with trees,” Rudnicki says.
He also notes that it’s not by accident that a summit involving Finnish forest bioproducts companies would take place in the Upper Peninsula at Michigan Tech.
“Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are the heart of one of the largest forested regions in the United States, yet the forest sector remains largely traditional in terms of products and services,” Rudnicki says.
There are also the region's cultural ties to Finland. “Michigan has the largest concentration of Finnish-Americans in the United States, and most are located in the Upper Peninsula making the region very comfortable for Finnish business,” he says.
Finnish businesses that plan to attend the summit include bioproduct and biotechnology companies Stora Enso, Sulapac Eco Packaging, Altum Technologies, Fortum Bio2X, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The Finnish forest and logging machinery companies Ponsse and Palax also plan to attend.
Finland is on the Cutting Edge
If the U.P. is an area where the potential for forest bioproducts is ripe, Finland is the country perhaps best equipped to turn potential into profit. It leads the world in bioproduct innovation.
Rudnicki says pulp mills are the key to forest bioproducts, but no one is building new mills in the U.S. He says by 2020 Finland will have five billion Euros (5.8 billion dollars) invested in new mills, including one bioproduct mill dedicated to the production of textiles and others utilized for a mix of bioproducts and bioenergy.
Representatives from the Finnish companies will meet with representatives from several Michigan state agencies and Universities. “The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan State, and Michigan Technological Universities are all participating in the summit, and there’s still room for more participants,” says Rudnicki.
Businesses, non-profits, government agencies and individuals interested in participating in the Michigan-Finland Summit on Forest Bioproducts can find more information and register for the summit at mifbi.org.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.