Frontrunner in Fuel Sustainability

Frontrunner in Fuel Sustainability

Author: Vera Koester, Sari Mannonen

Sari Mannonen, Vice President, is responsible for the UPM Biofuels Strategic Business Unit based in Helsinki, Finland. Her team at UPM created a 100 % renewable, wood-based diesel that produces 80 % less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels and reduces tailpipe emissions (NOx, particles) significantly. She grew up in an entrepreneurial household, has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and has over 15 years of experience in global business management.

Here she speaks to Vera Koester for ChemViews Magazine about UPM’s renewable fuel, why it is a frontrunner in sustainability, the pulp and paper industry, and her inspiration to learn and develop new things.



UPM started producing the renewable fuel UPM BioVerno in 2012. Can you please tell us about the fuel? What makes it special? What advantages does it have over other renewable fuels?

UPM made the investment decision in 2012 to build the first biorefinery in the world producing wood-based renewable diesel on a commercial scale in Lappeenranta, Finland. Construction started the same year, and commercial production started in January 2015. The capacity of the biorefinery is 100,000 tons or 120 million liters of biofuel.

UPM BioVerno diesel is a 100 % renewable, wood-based fuel, so it is not in conflict with the food chain; it reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 %, and reduces tailpipe emissions, such as NOx and particles sUPM BioVerno renewable dieselignificantly. It is also sulfur free. It is a drop-in diesel suitable for all diesel engines, cars, busses, trucks, and in marine use in any blend or as 100 %. It is also compatible with current distribution systems.

Unlike traditional biodiesel, UPM BioVerno diesel is 100 % hydrocarbon, thereby resembling regular diesel, so it is a stable, high-quality renewable fuel that burns cleanly in motors with reduced emissions. It has a high cetane and energy content. It is the only wood-based diesel produced on a commercial scale.

In addition to renewable diesel it also produces renewable naphtha that can be used as a biocomponent in regular gasoline or as a feedstock for producing bioplastics. We are currently selling to both market segments.

UPM Biofuels is a frontrunner in sustainability. Our sustainable fuels are the only fuels certified by International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC), ISCC Plus, The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), as well as the Finnish National Sustainability Scheme.



What does that mean?

We are the only biofuel producer able to show compliance with all of these schemes. This is very strong evidence of sustainability in all UPM Biofuel operations.



Can you say something about the process?

The creation of UPM BioVerno renewable diesel from wood-based tall oil is an advanced biofuel production process. This innovative production process has been developed in the UPM Biorefinery Research and Development Centre in Lappeenranta, Finland. The process is based on hydrotreatment of crude tall oil, a wood-based residue of UPM’s own pulp production. We have three big pulp mills in Finland.

In the process, crude tall oil is first pretreated to get rid of metals, salts, particles, and impurities. It is then hydrotreated and finally distilled, that is, fractionated to renewable diesel and naphtha.

See the process:
UPM BioVerno renewable diesel process



What made UPM invest in R&D towards this fuel and to start this business?

UPM started the transformation in 2006 when our company’s top management was mapping out new opportunities for the forest industry. It was seen that traditional forestry was going to face challenges, such as the halting of paper-demand growth in Europe and North America. It was quickly seen that biofuels represented an interesting potential area for growth. The direction as to raw materials shifted towards producing diesel out of crude tall oil, which is an abundant residue of our own pulp production.

In 2008, we decided to start developing the production process on our own. One significant milestone was the successful purification and pretreatment of the crude tall oil. When the current concept was finally found, it produced very good test results from the very first test runs. The process was developed in-house in UPM Lappeenranta R&D center, and in 2012 an investment decision was made to build a commercial-scale biorefinery in Lappeenranta.

UPM annually invests 5–10 % of its cash flow to R&D.



How important are European and global research and innovation programs and funding for starting such a business? How important are internal visions of future trends?

UPM collaborates with numerous Finnish and global research centers and programs that we highly value. However, the UPM BioVerno renewable diesel process was developed by UPM in cooperation with a catalyst provider, Haldor Topsoe, Denmark. UPM invested 179 million EUR for the biorefinery and completed it without public funding.

Understanding future trends, changes in mobility, resource scarcity, climate change, and regulation driving the biofuels business is crucial. Advanced biofuels, such as UPM BioVerno, are currently favored in regulation. For example, in the EU, a –40 % reduction target in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to keep global warming below 2 °C cannot be met without significant emission cuts in transport. To reach the targets, action is needed in all sectors, from road transport to heavy duty, marine, and aviation. Advanced drop-in biofuels are a tested, well-functioning solution in all these transport sectors. They could be our fast track to low-emission traffic as they could be taken into use immediately and clearly cut down the emissions.



Who can buy the fuel?

UPM Biofuels is a producer of wood-based renewable fuels. We sell UPM BioVerno diesel and naphtha currently to distributors in Scandinavia and selected EU countries, who sell it further to end-users through various gas stations. In countries where you have a mandate for biofuels, all gas stations need to blend a certain amount of biofuels to their fossil fuels yearly. For example, in Finland the mandate is 12 % in 2017, and 20 % in 2020. In the EU, 10 % of all transport fuels need to be biobased by 2020.



What does ‘renewing the forest industry’ mean (as mentioned on your website)? What is the potential of this industry? What are major challenges?

UPM leads the integration of bio and forest industries into a new, sustainable, and innovation-driven future. With our Biofore strategy we develop new innovative and sustainable businesses in addition to six business areas: UPM Biorefining, UPM Energy, UPM Raflatac, UPM Specialty Papers, UPM Paper ENA (Europe & North America), and UPM Plywood.

We see a huge potential in bioeconomy and circular economy. UPM’s circular-economy approach can be crystallized into three words: More with Biofore. We reuse or recycle virtually all production waste, recycle materials and products several times, and create added value through smart solutions. Our goal is to minimize waste and maximize reuse. New, innovative technologies – such as industrial biotechnology, 3D printing, and energy technologies – give new ways to create innovative products and solutions. We do all this to bring economic, social, and environmental value to our stakeholders and society. UPM BioVerno renewable diesel is a great example of an innovative new use for our own residue to reduce CO2 emissions.

The most challenging market outlook is for UPM Paper ENA as the decline in demand is expected to continue. However, we have competitive businesses with strong market positions and attractive growth opportunities.



Tell us a bit about how your career has developed, please.

I am currently Vice President, responsible for UPM Biofuels Strategic Business Unit based in Helsinki, Finland. I have worked at UPM for six years, previously in UPM Biofuels as Director, Sales & Marketing, responsible for commercial strategy and product launches (UPM BioVerno) in Biofuels business, as well as Director, Business Relations, where my contact groups included technology, suppliers in the biofuels sector, investors, reporters, EU and national decision makers, NGOs, and financial audiences.

I have over 15 years’ experience in leading global sales & marketing, customer management, customer strategy & business relations as well as business development in different global businesses. I have a Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry from the University of Helsinki and diplomas in business management and leadership from business schools at Henley, Oxfordshire, UK; International Institute for Management Development (IMD), Lausanne, Switzerland; and the Helsinki School of Economics, Finland.



What is most fascinating about your job?

The greatest driving force has been that we are now doing something authentically new. And not just in terms of forestry or our own company, but on a global scale – industrial history in the making. It’s hard not to be excited when creating a product that produces 80 % less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels do. It really has been inspirational to be a part of making a better and more sustainable tomorrow.



What motivates you?

All the above and being able to lead the spearhead business of UPM Biofore strategy, UPM Biofuels, with a great team that has the drive to change things and a team that sees challenges rather as opportunities with a solution-driven mindset.



How important is your chemistry background?

My background is in organic chemistry and biochemistry (Ph.D.), which helps a lot in understanding the process chemistry of our production in detail. With this background, I also find it fascinating to be among other chemists who develop something completely new. After all, the whole process is based on chemistry.

However, my strongest interest has always been to utilize all that knowledge in chemistry for business development and meeting/exceeding the customer needs with new innovative products. In our biofuels organization, even if chemistry and chemists play a crucial role, and we are many, we have a wide knowledge from technology to business and marketing. For example, to complete construction of the biorefinery demanded – thousands of hours of design and testing were required – combining knowledge from chemistry, process technology, oil refining, and wood processing. I believe that having people with these different competencies and education working as teams makes a winning concept.



What made you leave the typical career path of a chemist?

I started my professional career as a researcher developing a hepatitis B test in a research group; the diagnostic test was globally commercialized later. In my Ph.D. thesis I developed a new method using cellular fibronectin as a tumor marker detected from blood samples and I have a U.S. patent for it. So, I have a chemist–researcher–innovator background. My parents are entrepreneurs and have their own company, so international sales, marketing, and business development is where my interests took me.



Thank you very much for theinterview.

Sari Monnonen UPM renewable biofuel
Sari Mannonen
studied chemistry and gained her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Helsinki, Finland. She has diplomas in business management and leadership from business schools at Henley, Oxfordshire, UK; International Institute for Management Development (IMD), Lausanne, Switzerland; and the Helsinki School of Economics, Finland.

After working as a researcher at Locus Genex Oy, Helsinki, she joined Biohit Oyj, Helsinki, and worked first as Marketing and International Sales manager, and then as Vice President, Sales and Marketing. In 2007, she changed to Lindström Oy, Helsinki, as Senior Vice President, Corporate Sales & Customer Management. In 2011, she joined UPM. Here Sari Mannonen was Director, Sales & Marketing at UPM Living, Lahti, Finland, from 2011 to 2012, Director, Business Relations & Marketing, UPM, Helsinki, from 2012 to 2014, and Director, Sales & Marketing, UPM Biofuels, Helsinki, from 2014 to 2016. Currently, Sari Mannonen is Vice President, UPM Biofuels.


Selected Publications

Biofuels, UPM BioVerno renewable diesel tests:

Ph.D. (with my maiden name Sari Ylätupa)


Selected Awards

Granted to the biofuels business after the presentation and application done by Sari Mannonen:

  • UPM received the PPI Bio Strategy Award 2016 for its biofuels business.
    only global awards that are dedicated to recognizing the achievements of companies, mills, and individuals in the pulp and paper sector.
  • UPM Lappeenranta Biorefinery was awarded Commercial Scale Plant of the Year 2015 for bio-pioneering commercial-scale production of bioproducts.
  • UPM BioVerno diesel received the European Union’s Sustainable Energy Europe 2014 Award in the “traveling” category. The award was granted by the European Commission.


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