Javier Portela López | R&D and Quality Director at FINSA: “Wood use as a biomaterials or nanocelluloses source will create new opportunities”
Wood is, in essence, a circular raw material with an unbeatable degree of sustainability, far above that of other materials. This is an added value with which leading companies in the forestry sector such as FINSA work on a daily basis, promoting it through innovation to obtain new materials from waste; cutting-edge R&D projects in which CETIM collaborates. “Some of our factories can use up to 80% recycled material as raw material” says Javier Portela López, director of R&D and Quality at FINSA.
FINSA’s origins go back 90 years. For nearly a century, the company has successfully adapted to a changing world and industry. How do you see the current situation in the wood processing sector?
Wood is once again the protagonist after a century of being marginalized. Many of its traditional applications were replaced by the appearance of new materials such as plastics or by the massive use of concrete and steel.
Climate change and the abuse of unsustainable materials beyond the replenishment capacity of our planet have brought new policies and regulations. In short, more awareness about the sustainability of the planet, has led to revitalize the use of renewable and sustainable materials such as wood.
In addition, new possibilities have appeared thanks to new developments in wood / cellulosic-based biomaterials, and current issues such as the biorefinery.
I see a future where wood will be a highly valued resource with many applications competing for.
What do you see as the main changes for the industry in the future?
There is already a present to highlight which is the return to the use of wood as a constructive element. This time even with high-rise construction with the development of materials such as “CLT” (cross-laminated wood).
As I anticipated before, the use of wood as a source of biomaterials or nanocelluloses will create new opportunities.
The use of wood as an energy source remains to be seen, as well as its symbiosis in the manufacture of other biomaterials from this “green” CO2.
I would like the wood to be given the highest added value and for this to redound in its price, as well as in the improvement of the management and use of forestry operations.
As a leading company in the Iberian Peninsula and expanded to Europe and America, what are currently the main challenges, in terms of innovation and quality, to face the future of the sector?
Work on improving product quality is a constant in any production process. The wood transformation sector still has a long way to go to reach the levels of other industries. It is true that we have the handicap of working with natural materials with changing properties, which make the production processes more difficult to optimize.
For any industry, innovation must be a part of its DNA to ensure its long-term survival. We are talking about innovating in all aspects: logistical, organizational, value propositions and, of course, in terms of materials properties: improvement of durability, reduction of density, improvement of physical properties. It is also necessary to innovate in the process: processes optimization and application of IAR and all the aspects of Industry 4.0.
In this sense, what role do and will sustainability and the circular economy play for FINSA and for the wood sector in general?
We have been involved in wood processing for more than 90 years, so sustainability, understood as the concern for the conservation and the best possible use of our main resource, wood, is a perspective that we have long incorporated into our organization.
FINSA has a sustainability department with exclusively dedicated resources for 15 years. What at the time was seen as a department with little contribution is now a critical element in the proposal of any company and of course, in ours. The contribution to the organization has been and will continue to be key, even more so if possible, for the improvement and development of processes and products and for their enhancement. The knowledge and focus of the people who work in these departments are essential for the development of the value proposition, in our company and for the sector.
Wood is, in essence, a circular raw material with an unbeatable degree of sustainability far above that of other materials with which it competes. It is a material that can be recycled and reused almost indefinitely. Some of our factories can use up to 80% recycled material as raw material. Therefore, it is a strong point that any use of the forest resource can exploit.
We have long had multiple certifications that guarantee and demonstrate, from the responsible exploitation of this resource, carbon footprints, wellness certifications, etc.
The company collaborates with and relies on the local and national innovation network. What are the advantages of this collaboration?
FINSA has its own Innovation team, but it is clear that we are not experts in many areas and we need help. We also don’t have the capacity to internally absorb all the projects we are working on. We try to rely on the innovation systems around us and we even have dedicated resources to bring to Open Innovation schemes what we don’t find answers to.
Without the support of this network we wouldn’t be able to carry out and successfully complete many of the innovation projects we have open.
You collaborate with CETIM mainly on aspects of circularity and advanced materials, from water treatment to improvements in its main products. What is your assessment of the joint work? What results would you highlight?
Our degree of satisfaction is very high. We have several open projects, almost all of them complex, and the results are generally very satisfactory. I would like to say that the degree of success is 100%, but this would be unrealistic since innovation is risk and risk is opportunity, and we take to CETIM those complex projects in which FINSA needs help.
Highlight the high level of performance of CETIM’s researchers and the philosophy of this centre, which is different from others and greatly facilitates the relationship with its clients.
Once the research and development of new products or manufacturing processes has matured, how do you ensure the success of your industrial implantation?
We understand innovation as a process that requires the involvement and work of all the people who are part of the chain in order to be carried out.
In general, the product developments we make come as opportunities that the Channel Managers and the Commercial Network detect in the market. Therefore, from the first moment, the Product departments, which are responsible for creating the proposal, present us the challenges we have to work on. We try to be aligned and well informed at all times.
The task of innovation is an obligation for everyone in the company and the involvement of all the actors in the chain is essential.
In addition to relying on partners in its surroundings, FINSA is also known for supporting various initiatives to revitalize the forestry and wood sector.
Thus, we collaborate with the Cluster da madeira de Galicia, of which we are part, and which aims to strengthen the entire forest chain. We are also active in the Arume Foundation with the aim of improving the genetics, silviculture and uses of Galician pine.
In this sense, we would like to end the interview knowing your vision about FINSA’s role within the forestry and wood sector in Galicia.
We are a relevant actor in this sector since we use much of the wood that is generated in the Galician forests, directly or indirectly. We develop and research the best uses of this resource, hoping that the sector will become the main actor of the bioeconomy in Galicia.
In recent years we have been working on joint initiatives to promote the use of structural wood in construction, forestry research, in the valorization of Galician pine, in the recycling of wood, in the implementation of specialized training cycles in wood, and in research and development projects to adapt and renew the technology of production processes. These are some of the actions that indicate that the sector has the illusion and the capacity to maintain and use of wood in a sustainable way.
Let’s hope that all these initiatives will improve the use of wood for higher value-added products.
In my opinion, this would be the best legacy we could leave to the Galician forestry sector.
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FINSA, founded in 1931, is a Galician multinational wood transformation and panel manufacturing, leader in Spain and Europe. It has 10 production centers in Spain, Portugal and France where it manufactures its main products: technical wood, veneer and plywood, decorative surfaces, furniture and components, sawn wood, tongue and groove flooring, wooden sleepers, laminate flooring, impregnated paper or decorative paper.