Trainee days at UPM Biofuels

04/10/2019 11:54:35

As cheesy as it may sound, the first day of August 2017 really was the beginning of a new chapter in my life - my first official day as a UPM Graduate Trainee. With 14 other recent graduates, I’d been selected for the 18-month programme, taking up different positions at UPM. The plan for us was to get a challenging learning experience and introduction to UPM by rotation in different locations, functions, projects and roles, depending on each individual's programme.

In my team at UPM Raflatac Global Strategy Development, I got to start my journey with an extremely interesting project assessing Raflatac's sustainability work and portfolio, and how to integrate that more concretely into Raflatac commercial strategy. After the first autumn, my next project was for our Americas organization and I got to spend an unforgettable couple of months in Mills River, North Carolina. 

After returning to Helsinki we started planning for the third project of the programme. The aim was to get to know some other UPM business areas. Luckily, UPM Biofuels could use a pair of extra hands. We agreed I’d move my laptop and notebooks one floor down for autumn 2018 to work on a market study on novel feedstock sources to support UPM Biofuels' growth plans and supply chain development.

I was beyond excited about the opportunity to get to know the world of advanced biofuels, not just because of my study background - a Bachelor’s degree in Bioproduct Technology, majoring in Biorefineries, and a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering. Getting to work with novel business and technology that’s providing solutions for the world's major sustainability challenges felt like a perfect match.

The market study on novel feedstocks was mainly based on an extensive desktop study with a hint of detective work, considering the feedstocks UPM Biofuels is interested in are typically waste- and residue-based. I read a number of reports, analysed different statistics and data sources, contacted associations and experts. In October I visited the Kaukas mill site and got to see the UPM Biofuels biorefinery in Lappeenranta. I must admit, for an engineer like me, the number of pipes and complexity of the site really is impressive! But more than that, I got to work with external consultants with supporting market research for certain geographies. I even got to visit a conference in St Petersburg – because of the level of Russian skills needed, it was lucky our UPM colleague Alexander Fedotov was supporting the work throughout the autumn and attending the conference with me.  

The topic of the work, analysing figures, combining data and learning about production and the technology of advanced biofuels were all extremely interesting. First, we worked on supply and demand assessment in focused geographic regions, then tried to better understand commercial dynamics across the value chain, and finally to identify concrete next steps needed to move forward in supply chain development. That sounds really fancy, but to put it simply I think we managed to build some clarity and structure out of a very opaque market, and also prioritize which are the most promising directions - and maybe more importantly, directions that don’t seem attractive.

Yet the most rewarding part of my visit to Biofuels was the people I got to work with. From the very first meeting I felt welcome to the UPM Biofuels team and appreciated their positive, energetic spirit and appetite for a good laugh while working ambitiously towards common goals and growth plans.

Supervisor of the project was Satu Maaranen, Director, Feedstock and Business Development. I still feel grateful I got to work with her – Satu's energy, drive and structured solution-centred way of working was highly motivating. On a weekly basis we sat down to discuss progress and steer the direction of the project. From the beginning, Satu trusted me in finding the way and direction to reach goals and objectives we had set. Together with Satu, Markku Purmonen from Biofuels Development team, was a member of the project steering group. Their expertise, vision and challenging me to look for the bigger picture really pushed the project to better results. Besides Satu and Markku, I got to work closely with many other Biofuels colleagues, like Veikko Viikari and Christoffer Lassenius from whom I tried to grasp even a tiniest bit of know-how and expertise.  

Five months went by way too fast, and I must admit I felt a bit sad leaving the fourth floor. Luckily, new exciting work was waiting back at UPM Raflatac. The best part is that I still get to join Biofuels colleagues for weekly pilates – and who knows what the future will bring?