Interview with Dr. Michael Weiss, CTO at Voith Paper

Dr. Michael Weiss started in his new role as Chief Technology Officer and member of the Management Board Voith Paper on February 1, 2022. Since 2006, Dr. Michael Weiss has held various positions in the development of pioneering technologies and innovations at Voith Paper. As VP New Business & Research, he has been in charge of innovation management, the simulation department and the central laboratory at Voith Paper since 2017.

As CTO, he will contribute his many years of experience in research and development to drive Voith Paper’s innovation strategy around the differentiation criteria of sustainability, efficiency and full-line supplier. The main aim is to find answers to the megatrends of sustainability and digitalization and to make them usable for the paper industry.

Which technologies do you use to support the transformation towards a circular bioeconomy?

As a full-line supplier, Voith Paper provides holistic and customer-oriented solutions from a single source, for an efficient and sustainable papermaking process. With the XcelLine paper machines, Voith offers efficient papermaking for every paper grade, and with the innovative BlueLine stock preparation products, customers benefit from maximum efficiency and raw material yield. The digitalization solutions from our Papermaking 4.0 portfolio are playing an increasingly important role in papermaking to maximize resource efficiency and plant availability. The wide range of consumables and spare parts that Voith supplies to the paper industry also makes an important contribution to lowest energy consumption, high machine efficiency and plant availability.

What are you doing to minimize the energy requirements of your production?

Sustainability plays an essential role in Voith’s strategy. We want to be an industry-wide pioneer and, as a family-owned company, we are committed to ecological, fair and economically successful long-term management. With the help of new technologies, we are continuously optimizing the energy and resource efficiency of our production processes. We make our commitment to sustainability transparent and measurable with our sustainability report. Since 2022, all activities at the Voith locations worldwide have been climate-neutral. The ISS ESG rating agency has awarded Voith a B- rating for its commitment to sustainability. Based on more than 100 criteria, Voith’s performance in the environmental, social and corporate governance areas was rated above average. Voith is thus one of the three best companies in the plant and mechanical engineering sector worldwide.

In your opinion, what are the current challenges along the way to more sustainable paper production and how can mechanical engineering help?

There are several factors to be mentioned here. One very important factor is the availability and quality of the raw material for paper production, i.e., the cellulose fibres and the recycled paper. In Europe, the recycling rate is already at a very high level. Such high recycling rates require a preparation of the recovered paper that is particularly gentle on the fibres, for example, to maintain the strength potential of the raw material. Such technologies and solutions will continue to gain importance as the recycling rate increases, since the quality of the raw material and high-quality stock preparation strongly influence the overall economy and efficiency of the papermaking process. With our BlueLine stock preparation, Voith offers the world’s most resource-conserving process concept on the market.

Another factor is to minimize water consumption in paper production. Here, we have made great progress in the past decades by closing the production water cycles step-by-step. This year, Voith and Meri presented AquaLine Zero, a forward-looking water management concept with a completely closed water cycle. All water used in paper production is cleaned by an in-house purification system with state-of-the-art treatment technology and is fed back into production as recycled water in a resource-saving manner. This means that no process water is discharged from the paper mill and the actual fresh water consumption is reduced to only about 1.5 liters per kilogram of paper produced.

Decarbonisation will pose major challenges for paper producers and other industries in the coming years and decades. The Green Deal adopted by the EU envisages carbon neutrality in the EU by 2050, and greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 55 percent by 2030, measured against 1990 emission levels. To achieve the ambitious carbon reduction targets in the paper industry, disruptive concepts and novel approaches are needed in addition to the continuous development of existing technologies. The development and implementation of these concepts and technologies are part of our sustainability strategy at Voith. Of course, all factors must also be viewed against the background of the high cost pressure in paper production.

Are the challenges in your industry different regionally or the same globally?

Sustainability, decarbonization, and the associated changes in our industry are global developments. For example, the Chinese government has also declared its goal of being carbon neutral by 2060, and the USA, under new political leadership, has rejoined the Paris climate agreement. However, these developments towards a sustainable bioeconomy are most advanced in Europe.

The leading industrial nations want to achieve climate neutrality by the middle of the century. Do we need political support for the bioeconomy? If so, what do you specifically expect from policymakers?

It is the task of politicians to create clear framework conditions and make reliable decisions in order to provide investment security for all players in the markets and along the value chain. This is necessary in order to successfully implement the transformation towards a circular bioeconomy and, at the same time, to further increase the profitability and competitiveness of paper producers. Another important point will be to pave the way for the further expansion of renewable energies. In this context, the necessary infrastructure, such as transport networks and storage systems, must also be promoted. In addition, the development and market introduction of low-carbon-emission production technologies should be supported and accelerated.

What role does the topic of sustainable use of resources play in your research and development?

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