The $500 Million Bio-based Bet: Kemira’s Growth Accelerator Unveiled

What happens when chemistry meets purpose, and sustainability isn’t just a buzzword but a $500 million bet? That’s the riddle we dive into today, as water treatment is getting a revolutionary makeover—from purpose-driven chemistry to game-changing partnerships, all while making a bold leap into a bio-based future.

with 🎙️ Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen – President Industry and Water Segment at Kemira

💧 Kemira markets safe and sustainable chemistries that are part of a good life, ensuring hygiene, safe water, food safety, and more.

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What we covered:

🌍 How Kemira is revolutionizing water treatment with a purpose-driven approach to chemistry.

🤝 Why the power of partnerships is non-negotiable for Kemira’s success.

💡 What sets Kemira apart: a relentless focus on innovation to solve real-world challenges.

♻️ Why Kemira is a game-changer in the circular economy, turning waste into valuable resources.

🔗 How Kemira’s multi-faceted solutions go beyond just chemistry, incorporating digital tools and AI for optimization.

🎯 What makes Kemira a leader in customer-centric approaches, tackling new challenges as regulations evolve.

📈 How Kemira Beat the Odds: Navigating through COVID-19 and volatile markets to achieve impressive growth.

🌍 Why Global Reach Matters: Dominating Europe and North America while eyeing expansion in China.

🔬 What’s ViviMag: Introducing new applications like phosphorus recovery and PFAS treatment.

🌿 How to Go Green: Transitioning from 60% virgin materials to bio-based alternatives.

🤖 Why ChemConnect is a Game-Changer: Leveraging predictive analytics and AI for smarter water treatment.

🚀 How Reliability Fuels Growth: Winning customer trust through consistent delivery, even in crises.

🎯 How Customer Needs Drive Innovation: Kemira’s quest to replace fossil-based materials without compromising performance.

🤝 Why Partnerships Matter: Leveraging collaborations and a $500M growth accelerator to fuel bio-based product revenue by 2030.

🌿 What “Walking the Talk” Means: Moving beyond buzzwords to make concrete steps in sustainability and decarbonization.

📊 How Metrics Define Success: Aligning personal KPIs with business targets for a win-win outcome.

🌊 Why Water is the New Cool: Observing a surge in industry excitement and collaboration, especially in digital solutions.

🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥 


🔗 Have a look at Kemira‘s website

🔗 Come say hi to Tuija on Linkedin

(don't) Waste Water Logo

is on Linkedin ➡️

Full Video:

Infographic: The $500 Million Growth Accelerator


Editorial: Purpose-driven Chemistry

You’ve maybe heard of alum, a double sulfate salt that we use in deodorants nowadays but was already known to the Egyptians as early as 2000 BCE. And although they used it primarily for dyeing or leather tanning, they also applied it for water purification.

Indeed, in water treatment, alum acts as a coagulant. When added to water, it forms a gel-like substance that attracts and binds smaller particles together, making them easier to remove. The Egyptians would add alum to water, allowing it to react and form larger particles, which would then settle to the bottom.

The clearer water could then be decanted off the top, leaving the impurities behind. You’ve recognized it: this early use of alum was a rudimentary form of what we now call “coagulation and flocculation.”

That practice, dating back thousands of years, has evolved into the complex chemical treatments we use today. The Egyptians laid the groundwork, and we’ve built skyscrapers on it—figuratively speaking, of course.

But let’s be real; in the intricate 2023 World, the word ‘chemicals’ alone can raise an eyebrow, as there are certainly chemicals and chemicals. Indeed, while they make our water drinkable or support the treatment of our wastewater sludges, they also sometimes trigger growing concerns about their environmental footprint.

That’s where it gets interesting to look up the value chain of the chemicals and polymers we use in our treatment infrastructure. You know how we’ve regularly discussed on this microphone, how complex it can be to roll out circular economy approaches. Well, as Tuija will explain in a minute, 40% of Kemira’s water treatment chemicals raw materials are actually upcycled from another industry’s waste. Honestly, that’s, to me, sustainability and circularity, where I barely expected it!

But it doesn’t stop there. Indeed, Kemira is busy replacing the remaining 60% of its raw materials with biobased monomers. It won’t happen in a day, but it already started, and as Tuija will explain in greater details, Kemira is setting a clear roadmap with its goal to reach a 500 million dollars turnover from these biobased chemicals by 2030.

In today’s jam-packed conversation, we also discuss purpose-driven chemistry, the power of partnerships, Tuija’s relentless focus on innovation, and how Kemira built into a tech-savvy, customer-centric, circular economy champion.

Remember, if you like the typical Finnish frankness of my guest as much as I did, please take this episode and share it with a colleague, a friend, your boss, or your team; if you’re new here, welcome, take a seat, make sure to subscribe, and I’ll meet you on the other side.

Full Transcript:

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

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Antoine Walter: Hi, Tuija. Welcome to the show. Hi, and thank you. I’m really looking forward to that conversation because we’ll see in the deep dive that your company Kemira is offering stuff I wasn’t used to on that podcast so far. So I have some, some specific questions about that, but I’ll start with my good old tradition of the postcard.

And you’re based in Atlanta. which I would ignore by now?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Atlanta is an interesting South city in US and I have been there located six years. I’m a Finn from Finland. For me, it’s a, it’s a nice cultural merge into American culture. So we work a lot with the Georgia Tech, which is very nice university. And we have a lot of projects in common and trying to innovate something new.

Antoine Walter: I’m a big fan of sports. And I think I was roughly the age where I could start really following sports when the Olympic Games were in Atlanta. So to me, those are my first memories of sport events. So that’s what I had associated to Atlanta. You brought something new with this tech element. So thanks a lot for that.

What would be your elevator pitch to Kemira?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: We are really global company. We are about 3. 5 billion Euro company and we work with the water treatment solutions for industries. municipalities, pulp and paper industry, and also oil and gas. We really are looking for chemistry with purpose, what we say. We want to bring chemistry there where it can aid the industry to achieve its targets.

And nowadays these water intensive industries, They are really looking for this kind of resource efficiency, whether it’s a fiber in pulp and paper making, or saving energy, like we think about municipal waste water treatment. You wouldn’t like to waste the energy, or you might want to optimize your logistic costs when you are discharging your devoted sludge.

So all these things are, for us, chemistry with a purpose. We want to be part of the solution.

Antoine Walter: You used to… be dealing with water at Kemira. Then you went out of your way and went into pulp and paper. What a strange idea.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Oh, but that’s still in Kemira. It was Kemira’s pulp and paper segment. So,

Antoine Walter: and you’re just back a couple of weeks ago into this water world.

What’s your role today at Kemira?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: I’m a president of the business segment, industry and water. It’s about 1. 5 billion Euro out of that 3. 5. Billion of the whole company

Antoine Walter: across your 15 years with Kemira, right? You’ve been in different places Different countries different applications. What are your top insights?

What’s built your path to today when I started?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: I was really driven by these environmental topics already that time. I know nowadays it’s a very hot topic, and young people do love it. I loved it already that time, and that led me to this path of being in clean technology and working with the water. All my career, I have been one way or the other involved with the, with the water treatment topics.

And, uh, I have always thought that most important thing is the purpose. We need to work on something which has a good purpose, and that has led my way. I have been equipment supplier in the water treatment. I have been chemical supplier in the water treatment. Different angles, but always. bringing something added value to the water, which in my mind is very important for society.

It has a purpose.

Antoine Walter: So purpose driven for 30 years. Is that a way to encompass purpose driven?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Of course, purpose is the most important thing. Second important thing is the partnerships, whether it’s in a team within the company or within the industry together with the customers, sometimes together with the other stakeholders.

I have really learned the lesson that Nobody can succeed alone. No company can succeed alone. We all need each other. So it’s a network And it’s beautiful when it works.

Antoine Walter: Purpose, partnership. What’s the third “p”?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Third one is the innovation. Because if nobody comes up ever with anything new, we would be doing same old, same old.

Having a customer involved, and customer is always having the challenge, whether it’s a municipality or whether it’s an industry, there’s always some challenge they need to overcome. And that’s why you need this network. To understand what’s the problem and then get your wise heads together with your network to figure out the solution.

And I think that’s the beauty of creating new stuff. So customers love us and we love our customers. for this reason that there is this collaboration all the time.

Antoine Walter: As you mentioned innovation, let me jump into that question. We’re at the Bluetech Forum, which has this tagline of innovation for impact.

Yeah. What does that mean to you?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: It exactly means that we try to develop chemically aided solutions with the innovative approach. There is here in Bluetech, for example, a presentation at some point of time where our team is introducing with Veolia the patented technology of ViviMug, which means that we are first precipitating phosphorus in the waste water treatment into the sludge and then with the magnetic way recovering it, taking phosphorus away from there where it doesn’t do anything good like going to the natural waters.

So rather using it somewhere where you can do it. So that’s one example of innovation we try to come up with. We have also some other very nice innovative ideas and we are already working on those. Flush dewatering, for example, requires today a lot of polymers and polyacrylamides. They are coming from fossil sources, as we all know.

Would be nice to replace part of that, uh, biobased. So we are already today having a solution for polymer, which has monomers, which are coming from the organic sources. So excellent development there and will be very interesting to see how, how market will take those.

Antoine Walter: There’s a lot to unpack in what you just said.

We’ll come back, especially on the bio based materials, because I’m really curious about that. But, you know, when I’m preparing for these conversations, I’m trying to understand what a company does. Of course, Chemirai is well known, but usually it’s very hard to fit that into one sentence. It’s not the case for you.

I found a seven word sentence, and you’ll tell me if that one is true. Sustainable chemical solutions for water intensive industries. Seven words, and I think I encompassed almost everything you do. When I look at your website, I found, like, five products. Mm hmm. a 1. 5 billion company. I mean, the water is 3.

5, but yeah, 1. 5 in the water and segments, all of that over five products. How’s that possible?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Well, the world needs a lot of chemistry. That’s for sure. Even if it’s like a five product. That’s, it’s a five product categories. Of course we have thousands of products as such. So those are like a product categories, but it’s more than just the product, it’s solution.

So we talk about applications and applications include optimized dosing points, optimized dosing conditions, using digital tools. to find a better way to apply the chemistry. Yes, customers and the world industries, they do need chemistry to solve these problems.

Antoine Walter: What is exactly what you’re delivering?

Because chemistry is one thing, but as you mentioned, you need to apply that, you need to understand what you’re doing. So where does it stop? Where does it end?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: It’s a certain type of service industry or service offering. So it has molecules. So it has chemicals. It has brain power. Because before you can apply it, you need to know how to do it, and then, in the modern world, when you want to optimize something, you also need a very fancy IT tools.

You need to have artificial intelligence, machine learning, even conventional control and monitoring tools. And when you combine it all, it’s practically chemical solution, which you buy, which is almost a service. So it has all these components.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned your partnership with Veolia. Would Veolia be a customer for you?

Or would you offer together with them to an end user? I’m trying to place you in that food chain.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, sometimes somebody is a customer. Sometimes somebody is a competitor. Okay. Maybe not Veolia at the moment. And sometimes you’re a partner finding a solution. And this Vivimag solution is a good example of partnership.

It requires that magnet equipment solution, which is Veolia’s stronghold equipment technology. And then it requires that precipitation, so that the magnetic technology has something to take out of the solution. And that’s Gemira’s stronghold. It’s a perfect match in the sense that definitely not competing, but putting two solutions together after each other using chemistry as an enabler to do something.

So that is a typical way where we try to find a partnership. Same way we work sometimes with the customers, that they bring something, we bring something, and then when you put it together, then you suddenly have a solution.

Antoine Walter: So that means that a customer would come to you and say, Product lines and the thousands of declination.

I knew exactly what I want, or would they come and say, I have a problem with that specific step. Fine.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: I think that’s more typical. I mean, customers, unless it’s an existing application, whether they know exactly what. need. So we do sell also a lot of only chemistry without anything special application is known.

It has been maybe years and years there. Not everything is immediately innovative. I mean, it might be a normal phosphorus removal, precipitation after biological treatment, or it might be pretreatment with coagulation. It’s not always so. so special. So then it can be only chemistry. But then very often customers come with the new challenges.

When the regulation change, for example, they might have a tighter requirements and then they wonder what kind of technological combination we should do to most cost efficiently and sustainably handle it. And then you need this, uh, like understanding what the network can do, because quite seldom you can nowadays, in my mind, solve problems with only one type of technology, not only with chemistry or only with equipment or whatever that might be.

You better think wide and try to put those pieces of puzzle together.

Antoine Walter: I have a layman question for you. So sorry about that. When I hear chemicals, the first word that comes to mind to me is not sustainable. And you’re marrying the two, sustainable chemicals. What does that mean?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: It means that the world needs chemistry.

We are all about chemistry. We eat. It’s chemistry. Of course, it’s also biology, but the world needs chemistry and not all chemicals are like negative things. Like, for example, our coagulants, the key component is metal, and metal comes from the nature. In fact, 40 percent of the raw materials which ChemiRA uses to produce our chemical products are by products, for example, from steel industry, who has taken iron, made steel, and then they have part of the steel which is in their waste stream or by product stream.

We take it, we use the metal from there, and recycle it and use it for cleaning, for example, drinking water, or waste water. It’s a resource recovery, and that’s already 40 percent of all our raw materials are coming from recovering other places. And now, as I mentioned in the beginning, that polymers, flocculants, we also there try to find, for example, these biopaste.

Raw materials, which could then replace in these very conventional polymers, which everybody needs and which are absolutely needed in the world. For example, in sludge dewatering, there is no other substitution at the moment.

Antoine Walter: Let me come back to this 40 percent which you source in this resource recovery.

Yeah. How does that work? Does that mean you operate kind of a resource recovery plant at the outlets of a steel plant?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: In fact, our manufacturing plants are very often, you could call those almost like a recovery plants because we take the waste stream or the byproduct stream from the steel mill and we take it to our manufacturing site.

And we have a process where we then take the iron out of that stream. That’s one good example. And we have done that for years and years. It’s very good for everybody, because otherwise it would be a waste stream. Now it’s a useful resource. Which is recycled, so it’s a perfect example of a circular economy even.

Antoine Walter: Fascinating. Yeah. So when you see companies nowadays in the water sector, and there are several that come to mind, I won’t give names, it’s not about naming, but who are really promoting how they are chemical free. Yeah. What do you say is, yeah, maybe you missed a point.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: I could say, well, it’s good if it’s equipment free, or, you know, it’s too simplified picture in my mind to say that chemical free is always only good.

Chemicals are really essential part of this technical solutions. And if you look today’s regulatory world and requirements. We couldn’t meet our waste water treatment standards, for example, without chemistries. And think about this example of, uh, biogas generation. When you have, for example, anaerobic waste water treatment or anaerobic, uh, sludge treatment, if you are having…

Chemistry, before that, uh, digestion, you get more organic stuff into the biogas reactor. You are generating more biogas. If you didn’t use coagulation, you get less organic stuff into your biogas reactor. So, you can’t say that chemistry is bad. Chemistry needs to be applied sustainably, optimally. You shouldn’t overdose, you shouldn’t overspend, but you should use it as a part of the solution to get the optimal outcome.

Antoine Walter: So you need to, to zoom out and to look at the entire picture. Yes. To get.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Exactly. I would understand. And not only one way. Yeah.

Antoine Walter: You’re a public company. Yep. Which has a perk, which is it’s pretty easy to track your results. Yes. And to see your sales. And actually you had an impressive growth. Over the past two years.

Is it chemera, which is growing in a pretty stagnant market or is the market itself growing? And is there always more needs for chemicals in water treatment?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Yeah, that’s a good question And of course now last two years as you everybody knows has been this very tough COVID years and the demand in industrial side first went down because consumers didn’t consume all industrial products as much as they used to.

And now the demand has recovered and industry tries again to come back. So part of this kind of volatility, which we have seen also in the chemistry solution demand is coming because of these very strange times. But you recovered. But we have recovered and the one thing which all industry has seen is that many raw materials got very, very expensive after the COVID when the demand picked up suddenly.

Of course, every company in the world has tried to get the raw material cost increases into their prices and so we had to do as well. On top of that, it’s good to remember that the municipal business is very stable. It doesn’t care if there is a COVID or not. We still need to use the restroom and we still need to drink the water, right?

So that demand, uh, is growing very moderately, as we all know, a couple of percentage if we are lucky, and it grows with urbanization, it grows with, uh, with the people moving in the areas where, where, where they are consuming water and, and it’s treated, and so that part, uh, keeps on growing in that very moderate pace.

So, of course, what we have been doing and we are doing all the time is trying to grow. With the market, but also expanding to the new areas and finding these new applications.

Antoine Walter: If, if we can, if we try to see if I understand that, right, that means the first effect is you recovered from COVID, but still your sales in 2022 were much higher than what they were before COVID.

Yeah, you have this stable growth in municipal and also you increase a bit of your pricing. I guess that’s not the full story

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Because yeah, then we try to grow market share. We try to get to the new geographical areas like any company We are having excellent sales people who are Finding the way to introduce cameras, uh, solutions to the industries.

And one thing is that the, our customer satisfaction is very high. It was high already before COVID and all these, um, emergencies, which, which people have experienced. Uh, for example, U. S. faces often hurricanes and, uh, transportation challenges and, uh, damages. For example, in Texas, where a lot of chemical industry was located, they were frozen and a lot of supply was cut.

Also in Europe, when electricity prices were skyrocketing, many companies decided to stop their operations. So end customers who need the products were scared. That what happens to us if the chemical industry and all the other industries are kind of in trouble and not being able to supply of some reason, we are 100 years old company a bit more than 100 years.

We have been formed 1920. We have been always one of the most reliable, and that’s what the customers are recognizing. We got very high score. course during these catastrophes and emergencies and customers say, you are so reliable. You do everything to deliver. No matter what’s the difficulty. And that’s one of the reasons why I think we are successful also in growing because many industries, municipalities, they need their chemistry.

Otherwise they can’t one day just say, Oh, we didn’t get the phosphorus removal chemistry. Sorry people there by the lake where the water is coming. We can’t treat it now. We must deliver so we have really, you know, made that our advantage and our kind of differentiation. We are really super reliable.

Antoine Walter: I’m working for a 220 years old company so I can understand the vibe.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: You can relate.

Antoine Walter: Yeah. You mentioned geographies. So are you a worldwide company or what are you growing geographies today?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: We are already worldwide. We are, of course, largest in Europe. So there we are number one in organic coagulants. Also we are large in polymers. In North America, we are also very large in coagulants and polymers.

We have a lot of manufacturing sites here. In China, we are relatively small. We do have some business there, but that’s kind of our, one of those areas where we look to expand one way or the other. So that’s part of maybe my role as well. Now new in the role to see that, okay, which way are we going to get Asia?

Maybe more.

Antoine Walter: What’s your typical go-to market route? Do you go directly to the end user or do you go through integrators, distributors? Hmm.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: We are maybe more direct, especially in municipal side, but we also have very wide distributor base, especially on the industrial side.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned how one portion of your growth is the new applications.

Yes. So what are typical new applications where a 100 years old company can still find new greenfields?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: For example, this Vivimag, which I mentioned, uh, recovering phosphorus, for example, would be a new application. Also, we are presently looking for solution PFAS and, and also the micropollutants in that.

In the wastewater. So there we are working on on solution and hopefully being able to commercialize it. We are already running trials and that that’s very, very exciting. There is always especially regulatory driven needs will which will force us. Like everybody else to work together with the partners and find the best solutions.

Those are good examples.

Antoine Walter: I was ready to brainstorm a bit. What could be one of these new applications for you? And we just saw a pitch from Greg Newbloom from Membrane. Yes. Greg was a guest on that podcast maybe three months ago. Uh huh. And he’s bringing a new application to market, which is ceramic membrane, uh, with an exchange.

He’s replacing or is diminishing the need for trucking water away and burning water. If you truck water and you burn it, you don’t need chemicals. You just burn it. It’s stupid burning water, but still, there’s no other choice. If now you have a membrane process to replace that, I guess that membrane needs.

backwashing, it’s specific chemicals to treat that. Is this a kind of application you’re looking into?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Yeah, absolutely. To be honest, the ceramic membranes is not my strongest knowledge area. I know it has always been very costly compared to the other membrane materials. So looking forward to seeing some financials also at some point of time.

But if you think about the more conventional membrane processes, we all know how easily little holes get plucked and fold, right? So, most important thing for any membrane treatment is the pre treatment. Chemistry is usually used in any membrane technology pretreatment to take the biggest part of the potential foaling elements away and a lot of organics away.

Definitely chemistry is part of a sustainable membrane treatment because if you foal it, you use more energy or you reduce the life cycle of the membrane because then you need to replace it quicker. So pretreatment and then keeping the membrane clean. It’s better not just to clean the dirty thing, take the dirt out before it ends up there.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned how you would be going into these solutions and how you act as a service provider. Yeah. If you have chemicals, I guess you need to dose those chemicals. You need to measure those chemicals. Is it areas where you’re looking into?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s good that you raise it because I’m really enthusiastic about these digital solutions.

I really see how everywhere, and this really was, uh, boosted my thinking when I was in pulp and paper side, where paper machine operators who want to take the water out of the paper fiber are really keen on using the big data and understanding, you know, how we can increase the runability of paper machine by controlling, for example, raw water quality.

And, uh, we have a digital solution for the predictive raw water. Quality where we are forecasting what the quality of the water will be like in a couple of hours. What’s the optimal chemical dosage to get the impurities away? What is the flow? Is it very diluted or is it very concentrated? What do you want to remove from there?

We have a, such a Already operating commercial solution where customer is very happy and saves a lot of downtime of a very expensive paper machine because the water quality is controlled. So you can just imagine same application for drinking water treatment. This digital solutions which is much more than…

It used to be just control and monitoring is now taking all these fancy new tools of predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and we suddenly have such a data which tells us what to do and how to optimize it. And it’s optimizing energy, fibers, chemical dosage, it’s optimizing everything, whatever.

I think sky is the limit, we just need to learn to use it and make kind of a… understandable solutions out of it. So that’s what we are looking into.

Antoine Walter: Is that what you market under ChemConnect?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Yes. Yeah. We call that digital platform ChemConnect and we are adding their components. Of course, ChemConnect can be anything from simple level measurement of a tank, which is practically only monitoring or traditional control and monitoring.

But then it has now these new applications. which are predictive digital solutions, which are predicting what’s going to happen and optimizing it. And I’m so happy here to listen that there’s so many startups considering that domain. So that’s the area where we are really looking for partners and kind of, we want to work together because this, this is going to be a big thing in coming 10.

Yes, already in five years, already in this year. So I think that’s a big hot topic.

Antoine Walter: Don’t think I’m obsessed over it, but I’m trying to really wrap my head around that. You’re transforming into a service company. You’re delivering something which is at the end of the day, just a bulk product, which you replace now by a level of service.

So why don’t you just become kind of a service company which sells the results? And not just the chemicals.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: I mean, it’s up to how you put it, right? It’s how you express it. But the thing is, whatever you are, whatever you define yourself, it still has the same elements. It has the chemistry, it has the brain power to know what to do, it has that digital system, and then there is predictive analytics which tells you what to do.

So, yeah, you can call yourself a service. We call it digital service and digitally enhanced chemistry solutions. So I don’t think anybody anymore wants to be just, uh, service company with a lot of manpower standing and waiting that something happens. That’s too simplistic and maybe too conventional way of thinking of service.

So I think we think service needs to be modern digital service, which helps to optimize everything with the chemistry.

Antoine Walter: I’m now coming back to this bio based polymer. You explain how 40 percent of your raw materials comes from recycled stuff. Yeah, so I guess in this other 60 percent there’s still some margin.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Yeah, like a virgin, virgin materials. Yeah, 60 percent is virgin and we are all the time looking for different byproducts. But then also, cause, uh, we are having this inorganic chemistry side, and then we are having this, um, polyacrylamide, uh, um, polymers, as, as we call it. There we are looking for bio based raw materials that we could replace fossil based, cause nowadays polyacrylamides are coming from fossil, from the crude oil originally.

And if you think the world’s, um, every wastewater treatment plant who has a sludge dewatering, they practically, 90%. Hasa. Polymer needed so that you can optimize the sludge dewatering and reduce the volume so that you can transport it somewhere with the as low cost of fuel as possible. So that would be great if we could replace major part.

Or who knows all the carbon in that polymer molecule with the organic.

Antoine Walter: So where do you get it from? What’s a typical example of that replacement?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: We are looking for different sources. That’s an area where there’s a lot of innovation in the world going on. Our knowledge is mainly the polymers. We are producing polymers, not the components of monomers.

So we are getting different monomers here and there. And that’s where we put our innovation and the partners together. to figure out, we call it biomass balanced polymer. So we take bits and pieces, almost like a pieces of puzzle from bio based monomers and make them this polymer chain.

Antoine Walter: Let me check if I understand that right.

You’re like a cook who used to cook with. Certain ingredients and you still want to produce the same cake or a similar cake, which has the same effect, but you’re changing the ingredients from fossil based to to bio based. Yes. And now you need to find the right recipe to rebuild the same cake.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Exactly, exactly, exactly.

Fascinating. That’s very fascinating. And I’m really excited about it. We already have several customers who are very keen on it because. Of course, they would also like to reduce the fossil based raw materials, which they are getting to their processes.

Antoine Walter: That was part of your materiality metrics, I had to take that into note, which is part of your annual report, where you have this…

materials. On the one hand, you have also this element of supporting your customers to become more sustainable.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Yes. So I guess that’s exactly that comes to get, yes, that’s where it comes together. Cause all the needs come from the customers. I mean, whether it’s an industry or whether it’s municipality, everybody would like to get rid of fossil based stuff.

So our job is go and find it. You know, how do we give you the same performance? Because nobody wants to give away the good sludge quality. Right? You won’t even improve it, so we can’t say, Okay, now here you have a molecule, but it doesn’t do anything. You must bring the same performance. And that’s where this steps in, that, uh, if we are able to be like this cook and take those monomers and produce exactly the same molecule, just that that carbon there, in the polymer chain, comes now from the organic source.

That’s beautiful. Perfect. I think it’s perfect. That’s exactly where we need to go.

Antoine Walter: And this kind of R& D efforts, does it all happen within Kemira or do you also have partnerships with?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: We have partnerships. Yes, definitely. We have partnerships and we put also a lot of our own investment, like you saw there in the growth accelerator, which we have launched 500 million revenue.

coming from bio based products in 2030 and 2030 is seven years. It’s there.

Antoine Walter: One third of your turnover or what will be your growth by 2050?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Well, it’s for the whole company. If we are 3. 5 billion, 500 should come from the fully bio based. Of course, we already have now. Some bio based and, and in fact, we do have, for example, paper side, we have products which are bio based, but we want to increase, we want to at least double it.

We are quite ambitious with that. And the growth accelerator is a key execution vehicle for us there.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned how you didn’t invent stats. You, you, you stole it from your customers. Your customers were asking for it and you delivered on their ask. Which kind of customers came to you and asked for that?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: It’s the mega trend of the world. If you think it originally come from consumers. Like you and me or with the fact that you make a trend,

Antoine Walter: the thing is that there’s whatever. people talk about and there’s what they do. And sometimes there’s a dichotomy between the two. And it sounds to me like here, it’s about walking the talk and say, it’s not just about reducing fossil fuels.

It’s really about doing it. And what can we do if we can turn our polymers into bio based and let’s do it. It’s a bit different than just saying, Oh, I want to make good for the environment. I mean, that’s a very concrete step.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: It’s very concrete step. And maybe it helps that nowadays companies, if you think industrial players.

They are setting their own sustainability targets much more precisely. They want to reduce their carbon footprint. They want to reduce their fossil based raw material, share of the raw material. So, It comes through the industrial players, and I think even municipalities are nowadays saying we need to take part of this into this decarbonization.

Nobody is safe in that sense, so it comes everywhere. And when you have a solution to say that, dear customer, you say you want to reduce this, look at this, this is reducing it. So they are, of course, everybody’s interested. And then it, in the end of the day, it comes to, of course, very much also to the regulation and how that…

develops. And then also that we do get those solutions to work. That’s also, of course, extremely important. But like this biomass balance polymer, these are exactly same performance as the fossil base. So the molecule doesn’t know where the carbon came from. And it’s behaving like any carbon. Carbon is an atom.

It’s there within the molecule. And that’s the beauty of that part.

Antoine Walter: over the last section in this tip time, which is more about you. Okay. You explained in the beginning how you. Somewhat to return to this water part of Camura by taking on your new role. What is your key performance in Ikecho? What is your North Star in this first weeks and first months into your

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: in the sense that my own targets in this role are exactly same as, as our business targets.

And as you can notice, I’m very passionate about this water and getting things right and being part of the solution, having this purpose. I want us to win So I want our solutions be useful and adding value to the customer and then us also economically, technically, people wise, environmental wise, doing it sustainably.

So win win. That’s my target.

Antoine Walter: Is there something that surprised you in these first weeks?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Well, yeah, I was three years almost away in pulp and paper, more in pulp and paper, and I didn’t follow so closely. And now when I came here to the Bluetech Forum, I was here, by the way, first time 2013, nine years ago.

It was much smaller and much more humble. And now when I see this energy and collaboration. I’m really positively surprised and I love to listen to those digital ideas, what there are, and recovery of nutrients from the water or sludge. Maybe I’m surprised about the excitement of the whole water industry.

That has increased maybe during COVID years.

Antoine Walter: So we used to be like this ugly, kind of traditional industry and now we’re the cool kids.

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Yeah, exactly. We were not the hottest topic in the world, right?

Antoine Walter: If you look in the future, what will tell you that you had a positive impact in, I don’t know, five years, for instance?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: Yeah, it’s this win win. We have happy customers who have new solutions. They meet their targets and we make good business doing it. And we have this. Very engaged, clever people who want to work on these water solutions. Water chemistry solutions combined with digital and whatever we need to combine into it.

That’s it. When we have succeeded, then I have succeeded as well.

Antoine Walter: Very clear. Thanks a lot for your openness in this deep dive. To round off these interviews, I have some rapid fire questions. Okay. So let me transition to that last section.

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Rapid fire questions:

Antoine Walter: My first question is the following. What is the most exciting project you’ve been working on?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: It’s mission impossible to say just one project. I have been working in China and Mexico and Poland and Italy and US and everywhere. And, um, everywhere is exciting projects.

Everywhere. And, uh, I think people do the, the thing. Most exciting thing is to see people succeeding when they use their full capacity, their brain power and they work together. Then that’s something. And that you can see everywhere in every project.

Antoine Walter: Can you name one thing that you’ve learned the hard way?


Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: maybe the value of the teamwork. At least when I was younger, I thought more that, okay, this company does this and we need to do this alone or. I need to work alone on this, but, uh, you learn it quite quick, quite quickly that nobody succeeds alone. No company succeeds alone. So do you have an example?

I don’t have an example. I don’t remember exact example, but is there

Antoine Walter: something you are doing today in your job that you will not be doing in 10 years? I hope I’m

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: retired in 10 years.

Antoine Walter: I had that conversation with Andrew Benedict and, um, Andrew Benedict had this. Fascinating path, taking Zenon to the place where it got sold to GE, and he went on retirement for six months, and then he got bored and he came back.

So every time I see someone passionate about what they do tell me, Oh, I won’t be working. I just…

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: You don’t believe it, right? Yeah, well, what I won’t be doing after 10 years is, I hope I will not be flying around the world so much anymore. That might be already good

Antoine Walter: enough. And I get it. If you, by the way, you’re from a good transition to explain that maybe if you see a difference in sounds compared to what we usually have, it’s because I was fine to come here and my microphone didn’t arrive.

So I guess how one might want to reduce the troubles. Yeah, exactly. What is the trend to watch out for in the water sector?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: It’s, it’s this digitalization. I mean, I’m 100 percent sure that that will change everything we do, not only in water, but especially in the water. So we need to be on top of developing.

So many new applications to optimize everything. We can’t afford anymore, you know, let’s just get it good enough. Now, everything needs to be perfect and optimized, so I think we are going to see really a transition to the digital world. That’s what I think.

Antoine Walter: If I instantly became your assistant, what’s the number one task or mission that you’d give me?

I would send

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: you to end the Ukrainian war. Because that’s a waste of brain power, human power. It’s not in our hands, I know. But when you ask it like that, that’s what I would like somebody to do, you know. Number one. Number one. We need to end such a senseless. I’m not sure I

Antoine Walter: have that power, but I… Yeah, but let’s

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: try whatever ways we can.


Antoine Walter: a larger note, would you have someone to recommend me that I should definitely invite on that microphone as soon as

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: possible? Well, I think that Veolia Contact, who has been working with us in this ViviMug, Uh, recovering phosphorus. I think he would be a great target and if you need his name, I’m able to find it.

Um, Damien Casalet. Maybe he would be a good guy to

Antoine Walter: talk to. I’m recording with Vilja later today, so maybe… Oh, you are? Maybe he’s there. Maybe. Who

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: knows?

Antoine Walter: Perfect. Well, it’s been a pleasure to have that very open conversation. If people want to follow up with you, where can they reach out the best?

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: My name is so easy, Tuija Pohjolainen Hiltunen.

You just look for it in Gemira and send me an email and let’s connect. So email is your primary? Email is best,

Antoine Walter: probably. So as always, that will be in the show notes, so if someone wants to… Follow up with you. Absolutely. That’s fine. Thanks a lot to you. Thank you. I

Tuija Pohjolainen-Hiltunen: hope to talk to you soon. It was lovely meeting you.

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