Industrial factory

Barley Starch from Koskenkorva to Chemigate

Feb 9, 2024

Starch is a versatile industrial raw material, derived from plant-based raw materials such as corn, barley, potatoes and other tuberous plants. This makes the barley starch separated at the Koskenkorva factory quite unique – barley starch isn't produced at this scale anywhere else. Starches are used in a wide variety of foods, as well as in a very broad range of industrial applications, such as adhesive production and in the textile industry, but especially in paper and paperboard production. The Finnish paper and paperboard industry represents the primary end-use for starch produced at the Koskenkorva factory. As a downstream processor and distributor of Anora's barley starch, Chemigate offers these customers a wide range of expertise, experience and starch-based product options.

Chemigate´s success is built on expertise and experience

Chemigate's professional expertise in starch raw materials and modification is built on decades of experience and long-term customer relationships with the Finnish paper and paperboard industry. "Our key markets are Finland and Sweden, and for them our location is also a logistical advantage. Further processed products, such as starch-based specialty polymers, are exported to Central Europe and all the way to Asia", states Maisa Kantola, Chemigate's Sales Director. "More than 90% of our customers are from the paper and paperboard industry. In terms of volume, paper and paperboard production requires the most fibre, stone and starch. The role of starch is to provide strength and so-called runnability, or production efficiency. In addition to the starches added into the pulp, there are surface sizing, spray and coating starches, which provide higher quality printing paper or layered paperboard." On the benefits of potato starch, Kantola states: "Although potato starch has traditionally been the number one thing, cereal starch has gradually taken an increasing share of the potato starch market. This is largely due not only to availability, but also to price, as potato starch is more expensive. The production inputs required for its cultivation and, therefore, the cost of production, are more expensive. But potato starch still has its users, because it provides the best strength." A paper technology engineer by training, and having started her career at paper coating pilot plants, she has learned well the secrets of paper production. The decades-long cooperation between Anora and Chemigate was further strengthened in 2021, when the sale of native barley starch for the paper and paperboard industry was fully transferred to Chemigate. "Barley starch is a very important part of our product portfolio in terms of volume. Deepening our co-operation with Anora was an excellent Win-Win-Win solution because our customers also benefit from the fact that we're able to offer even stronger expertise in our field. Now we can offer them both a broad product portfolio and strong technical expertise. Barley starch does not offer any actual functional advantages but competes with other imported cereal starches. "However, we have the advantage of having a well-functioning production chain nearby. Our broad raw material base gives us both flexibility and security of supply. Sustainability issues are very important to us and our customers, and here barley starch offers us the opportunity to differentiate ourselves", sums up Maisa Kantola.

Starch is a renewable, non-toxic industrial raw material

Two of the most relevant issues now facing the industry are low utilisation rates in the manufacturing sector and the ongoing EU regulation on packaging and packaging waste. Low utilisation rates are the result of high stock levels at various links of the packaging carton chain. There is also a lull in demand. “We’ve never seen such a drop in utilisation rate before, and no one can predict whether next year will be any better. On the packaging side, however, growth is coming – the market for carton packaging is large, and there are many different grades." The European Commission's Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, another current issue, was approved by the European Parliament in November. The final draft of the law is still under negotiation after adoption by the Council of the European Union, so the process is still ongoing. Naturally, the potential impact of these changes is being assessed in the Member States by a number of different bodies. "Personally, I strongly believe in the continued use and growth of fibre packaging. New applications are emerging all the time, and on the other hand, the transitional periods offer us time to react.” The forestry industry has contributed to highlighting important perspectives related to the use of renewable, biodegradable and yet highly recyclable fibre materials in packaging. So, at least for now, milk cartons will live on. "Above all, our end customers expect us to provide products suited to their applications. Test runs and product development can take a couple of years. From us, it requires technical expertise, an understanding of the customer's processes and needs, and flexibility. Making a reliable product for the customer is our core competency, but customers in the paper and paperboard industry also expect consistent quality and efficient logistics: deadlines must be met, and no uncontrolled changes are allowed. At Chemigate, we're proud of the fact that, because of us, the customer's machines have rarely stopped. We often have a back-up option, for example, so that products can be manufactured on different lines with different technologies", Kantola states. "Our end-customers are certainly also the most demanding when it comes to sustainability. So, we need more information about the product's carbon footprint and its traceability, as well as transparency throughout the chain, up to primary production."

Sustainability and a co-operative supply chain are the future's success factors

Chemigate is determined to grow, because despite the current low utilisation rates, starch use is still growing with significant investments both in Finland and Sweden. "The use of fibre material in packaging is growing and its applications are increasing. We are technically competent, have good customer relations and a short supply chain with logistical advantages. With competitive prices and a well-functioning, sustainable chain of partnerships, we have the opportunity as a domestic player to take a share of the growing market", says Chemigate's Sales Director, summing up opportunities for the future. "However, we have to make sure that our capacity is also ready for the next steps", says Kantola. "The starch demand of the paper and paperboard industry in Finland alone is roughly estimated at over 200,000 tonnes. Over the next four to five years, up to 60-70 000 tonnes more capacity could be added, as demonstrated by Stora Enso's investments in Oulu. "As a whole, this is a chain, and we need to take care of it. We want to invest heavily in domestic raw materials and also be a pioneer in sustainability issues. Together with Anora, we have a good chance of succeeding. Although sustainability issues are not yet our main criteria in decision-making, our large international customers are leading the way in sustainability – and this is reflected in us. To be successful, the whole process must be transparent, which is why it is also important to improve farming's sustainability and carbon footprint." Chemigate employs more than 100 professionals in four different locations: Lapua, Kaipiainen, Mietoinen and the Finnamyl factory in Kokemäki. Chemigate is part of Berner and produces around 100,000 tonnes of various starch products each year.

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