Microbes: small things, big impact

Published 8 December 2017
The microbiology laboratory has been part of Stora Enso Research Centre Imatra for over 30 years. During that time, it has become one of the most progressive centres of microbiology know-how in the paper and board industry and pioneering in the development of novel DNA-based methods for process and end product control.

Using rapid automated DNA-based methods, Stora Enso microbiologists have mapped the effects of microbes in different material flows focusing on the safety and purity of the end product. Also, microbiological purity of process waters plays a major role in how well board and paper machines can be operated efficiently.

The increasing need for recyclability of materials, energy savings and more closed water cycles are challenging microbial management. The amount of data produced with the DNA method is vast. “We can now explain many root causes in detail due to the increased number of measurements. The mining of ‘big data’ enables us to observe phenomena that were hidden before,” notes Kalle-Juhani Riihinen, Specialist in the DNA laboratory.

“Microbes are small things with a big impact, since they are present essentially everywhere through all our processes. They come in to the process with water and raw materials. Microbial populations are subjected for selection in the processes and can have an effect on productivity. Here, faster and more accurate methods can be used to help control microbial growth in the processes. At the same time, microbiological purity of end products is improved,” explains Senior Specialist Kirsi Partti-Pellinen.

To achieve the best results in microbial management, the laboratory endeavors to bring advanced research close to practical application. The researchers actively visit the production lines, share information and cooperate with different units.


Technologies of the future

Technological development, from the microbiology point of view, is a fascinating topic and Stora Enso aims to be at the top of research in the future as well. “The use of DNA methods is expanding rapidly, and our research will soon focus on Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) methods and applying them to industrial microbiology. NGS technology was used to map the human genome. It can also be used to research complex interactions and effects of microbes. For example, microbes can have unwanted impact on board quality like smell and taste, and the mechanisms of how these sensory impurities are created are not yet fully known”, continues Kalle-Juhani.

“It is vital to stay on the forefront of new technologies. Stora Enso has a well-organised R&D, accomplished colleagues, broad-minded support from top management and solid, practical cooperation in production,” he concludes.

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