The financing for the project comes from Tekes’ funding concept for the commercialisation of research ideas, TUTLI. The research opens up new opportunities for the Finnish forestry industry, so there is a financial interest also from a governmental viewpoint.
The potential is huge. The value of the global market for optical brighteners is estimated to be about 50 billion euros. The paper industry with a turnover of 37 billion euros and the textile industry at 4.7 billion euros are the largest clients.
“The growth potential in the market is about 1.5 per cent up to 2020. It is possible that the technology currently in use will soon be banned, so financially our timing is ideal,” says professor Pedro Fardim.
The project is being carried out in cooperation with Smart Chemistry Park in Raisio, just outside of Turku. One of the challenges involved is to increase production and lower costs, for example by reducing the number of production stages. A low price is essential when launching the products on the market. But with increasing restrictions being applied within, for instance, the cosmetics and food industries, the need for new, environmentally-friendly products grows, and if necessary companies might be prepared to pay a bit more for them.
“Aiming at a product launch involves pricing and competition. That is the big difference compared to ordinary university research,” stresses Fardim.
“We will also need to attract investors in order to be able to grow and commence production for pilot tests. If a large company wants 300 kg for testing, we must be able to provide that within a few weeks, and currently we don’t have the facilities for that volume of production. Designing the reactors and other equipment is an extensive engineering project, but the concept is clear to us – which chemical components are needed, how they are added to the solution and so on. That is the most important thing.”