Innovating for tomorrow: the growth mindset of Kemira’s R&D

The Finnish Patent and Registration Office has recognized Kemira as holding the fifth position among Finnish domestic companies for the highest volume of patent applications filed in 2023. Notably, Kemira leads its industry-specific reference group, securing the top position in its sector for patent submissions.
People working in Kemira's research center in Espoo, Finland.

According to Kemira Oyj’s 2023 full-year results Kemira reached record profitability in 2023; entering a new year with a focused business portfolio. The strategy rooted in growth is also visible in the excellent score in innovation.

The Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH) has recognized Kemira as holding the fifth position among Finnish domestic companies for the highest volume of patent applications filed in 2023. Notably, Kemira leads its industry-specific reference group, securing the top position in its sector for patent submissions.

The strategy behind innovation at Kemira

The recent increase in patent applications highlights Kemira’s shift towards innovative projects in growing areas like barrier technologies, textiles, molded fiber and digital services, but also on strengthening its core business. This approach allows Kemira to explore new areas while staying grounded in its core businesses. The strategy is oriented towards improving what we offer and creating completely new solutions that can change the market.

“Patenting is a crucial step along the development and innovation processes. At the start of each new project, we make sure to patent the basic ideas to set the stage for future developments”, explains Virpi Tognetty, Director, IP Management, R&D and Technology at Kemira. “Along the way, we gradually add more patents to expand our tech reach and keep our patents valid for a longer period of time. Our portfolio covers both the latest breakthroughs in new areas and improvements in our established operations.”

Innovation is embedded in Kemira’s strategy

Developing a leading portfolio of renewable solutions stands as one of Kemira’s strategic priorities. At its core, this priority involves expanding into new growth markets and launching innovative renewable products. Research and development (R&D) plays a crucial role in the process, carefully managing the patent portfolio by making sure each patent is aligned with Kemira’s main strategic objectives.

The strategic priority encompasses several distinct growth initiatives which are central for innovation and development: accelerating renewable water treatment, sustainable packaging barriers, innovations in textile fiber markets, capitalizing global molded fiber growth and optimizing processes through data-driven digital services. This strategic coherence ensures that our innovations not only propel us forward in new markets but also reinforce our stronghold in established ones, embodying our dedication to continuous improvement and strategic growth.

Revitalizing innovation: Kemira’s strategic surge in patent filings

Throughout 2023, Kemira started the patenting process for 55 new inventions. The recent surge in patent filings within Kemira is a direct result of its strategic focus on key growth areas and the culmination of innovative projects within our existing businesses like Pulp & Paper and Industry & Water and new focuses such as textiles and molded fiber. This aligns with our strategy to enhance activities in these sectors, which has now resulted in an increase in patent activity.

Moreover, “A strategic reallocation of our human capital within the R&D department has significantly contributed to this renewed momentum. By redirecting our talents from traditional research areas to these emerging sectors, we have not only optimized our innovation potential but also underscored our team’s adaptability and prowess in embracing new challenges. This realignment, while maintaining the overall headcount, has facilitated a focused approach towards innovation, particularly in areas such as barrier technologies, textiles and molded fiber, thereby enriching our patent portfolio.” remarks Nina Nurmi, VP, R&D and Technology, EMEA.

It’s also worth noting that the slight dip in patent numbers in the preceding years (in 2022, patenting process was started for 34 new inventions) could be attributed to the global disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While R&D operations continued to maintain their course, the unforeseen circumstances did introduce a temporary lull in the pace of groundbreaking innovations. However, the shift towards key growth areas marked a significant change, revitalizing the drive for innovation.

The growth mindset of Kemira’s R&D researchers

In the field of research and development, a strong background in chemistry and engineering is crucial as it forms the foundation for creating new solutions. But R&D is about more than just scientific knowledge; it also requires flexibility, resilience, and strong motivation. These skills are becoming more important because they enhance technical expertise with the ability to manage projects, understand business intricacies, and contribute to Kemira’s financial success.
Central to R&D is the goal of combining practical thinking with a mindset focused on growth, ensuring that innovation efforts are in line with the company’s financial goals. It’s vital to strike a balance between creating new things and making sure they meet current and future market needs.

Our purpose is not just about advancing the frontiers of science but also about contributing to a more sustainable world, a mission that resonates deeply with our team.

Moreover, “The inspiration drawn from the company’s strategic vision, particularly the commitment to sustainable chemistry, fuels a profound sense of purpose among our R&D professionals. This purpose is not just about advancing the frontiers of science but also about contributing to a more sustainable world, a mission that resonates deeply with our team in Espoo and beyond .” – underline Nina and Virpi.

The nature of R&D work demands a long-term perspective, one that looks beyond immediate commercial gains to anticipate and shape future industry trends. This forward-thinking approach is essential for identifying and acting upon megatrends that will define the landscape of our industry.

“In essence, R&D is a domain for the inherently curious—those driven by a quest for knowledge and a desire to make a meaningful impact on the world. It is this blend of curiosity, commercial acumen, and a commitment to sustainability that defines R&D researchers at Kemira, ensuring that our innovations not only meet the current market needs but also pave the way for a more sustainable future.” – says Nina.

Liquid polymers in test tubes.

Navigating transformation through collaboration & forward-thinking

Developing a long-term strategy for R&D at Kemira involves a categorization of projects into three distinct types: incremental, next generation and transformational. Particularly in our Espoo R&D center in Finland, a significant portion of new product development initiatives are deemed transformational, indicating a focus on tackling more complex challenges in the new areas.

The essence of addressing these complex issues often requires looking beyond the conventional boundaries of one’s team or expertise. Especially for transformational projects, the necessity to integrate external insights and capabilities becomes paramount. This leads to an increased emphasis on collaboration, notably with startups and other external partners, which forms a core component of our global R&D strategy. By engaging with external entities, we not only broaden our knowledge base but also accelerate the innovation process.

Over the years, there has been a strategic shift in our R&D portfolio, with a significant transition from predominantly incremental projects to a majority being classified as transformational. This shift aligns with our growth strategy, focusing on pioneering solutions that are new to the industry and to our customers. It signifies a commitment to developing groundbreaking innovations that require a unique blend of skills, a forward-thinking approach, and a willingness to venture into uncharted territories. This evolution reflects Kemira’s dedication to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in chemical solutions, ensuring that our long-term R&D strategy is not only about sustaining the present but also about shaping the future of sustainable chemistry.

Unveiling ongoing initiatives

Within our R&D department, there is a lot of enthusiasm for our work in emerging areas such as barriers, textiles, and molded fibers. A standout project is our partnership with IFF to increase the production of renewable materials, an effort that’s expected to transform our sustainable practices. By the end of this year, we anticipate this project reaching operational status. These renewable materials will become available at entry level industrial scale to drive market development and to provide supply to first-mover customers across markets.

Moreover, this development will enhance our capabilities in both the Pulp & Paper and Industry & Water sectors, enabling more extensive testing and speeding up the development of new technologies — which will benefit our customers. Another area drawing considerable attention is the micropollutant removal in water treatment, dedicating considerable resources to develop effective solutions.

Additionally, our venture into biomass-balanced products for water treatment is beginning to show promising results, evident in the encouraging sales trajectories these products are charting. This increase of a growing customer inclination towards biobased solutions, marks a successful start in this area.

Kemira’s R&D team is continuously forging ahead, working on the next and even third-generation innovations. This forward-thinking ethos ensures that we are not just responding to current needs but are also preemptively crafting solutions for future challenges, keeping us at the forefront of sustainable chemical solutions.

You might also be interested in

Person walking on top of a log in woods.

Biomass balanced polymers – Speeding up the renewable shift

The urgency to shift from conventional, fossil-based chemistries to solutions derived from renewable feedstocks is becoming increasingly evident, driven by the need to mitigate climate change. To take immediate action and reduce the use of fossil carbon across the value chain, Kemira is utilizing the biomass balance approach to create a more sustainable future for customers and society.
Read more
Marko Kolari
Meet our expertInnovation

Growing innovation at Kemira

Since joining Kemira in 2004, Dr. Marko Kolari has shown sustained high technical performance, strong project and commercial delivery and is a recognized expert not only within Kemira but also with our customers globally. He has held a leading scientist role within the product line for 15 years and been a people manager for 8 years.
Read more
Woman in laboratory.
ArticlePulp & paperInnovation

Kemira’s R&D collaborations drive sustainability breakthroughs

Our current network has more than 50 universities, research institutes and companies including special collaborations with our customers.
Read more
Back to top