“At Stora Enso, we believe that anything made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow. Our work in the Biomaterials division strives to make this a reality as soon as possible”. To say it – in this exclusive interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Markus Mannström, Executive VP at Stora Enso Biomaterials Division. The Nordic company is one of the main players of the bioeconomy at global bioeconomy. With Markus Mannström we talk about what Stora Enso is doing in the field, the role of pulp and paper industry and his expectations related to the announced new EU bioeconomy strategy.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Mr Mannström, Stora Enso’s aim is to replace fossil based materials by innovating and developing new products and services based on wood and other renewable materials. How are you making this possible?
At Stora Enso, we believe that anything made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow. Our work in the Biomaterials division strives to make this a reality as soon as possible.
Our Innovation Centre for biomaterials, based in Stockholm, plays a crucial role in developing new products made from renewable materials. Inaugurated in 2015, the Centre is focused on identifying business opportunities and linking them with leading innovation and research centres in business and academia. In addition, we run Pulp Competence Centres in Finland and Sweden, as well as pilot and demonstration plants in the US.
Robust tools and state-of-the-art facilities for developing commercial solutions are not enough – there needs to be interaction as well as closeness to customers, academic researchers/centres and other innovative companies. Innovation in the Biomaterials division is focused on four product platforms: pulp product innovation, regenerated cellulose and MFC (microfibrillated cellulose), lignin and bio-based chemicals. We also work on developing our extraction technology platform to produce C5 and C6 sugars and lignin from wood, our most important raw material. By creating a new business platform based on biomass, which does not compete with food production, we’re creating novel products to enter new renewable materials markets.
What role can the pulp and paper industry play in the development of the circular bioeconomy?
The forestry industry has a great deal to offer as wood fibre-based products store carbon and can also replace non-renewable materials such as plastic, glass, steel, concrete and fossil fuels. It has the potential to create new jobs while reducing dependence on energy and primary materials. By using materials efficiently and replacing non-renewable materials, Stora Enso operates at the heart of the bioeconomy, which is also circular. We constantly innovate to make use of materials that would otherwise end up as waste.
The bioeconomy’s strong research and innovation dimension can contribute to the circular economy transition while also reducing dependence on fossil fuels and lowering carbon emissions.
The recycling rates of paper and board are the highest in the EU, while bio-based products have a more balanced carbon cycle and a shift to biorefineries, which use renewable resources, will make the circular economy more sustainable. It is also important to design bio-based products so they can also be reused and/or recycled.
How relevant is the support of Finnish and Swedish governments in your transition to a biomaterials company?
A long-term bioeconomy commitment from policymakers is essential. National governments have an important role to make sure different policies affecting the forest-based bioeconomy unleash the full potential of the sector. Several policy areas such as energy, environment, climate, trade and transportation/infrastructure need to be aligned at both national and European level. A long-term view is essential to secure investment both in industrial capacity and innovation. Keeping international trade issues high on the agenda is crucial for export-dependent economies such as Finland and Sweden.
By the end of October the European Union will present the new bioeconomy strategy? What are your expectations?
We are glad the EU is reviewing its bioeconomy strategy and we expect it to reflect the important role the forest-based economy plays in Europe. A renewable resource such as wood – delivered from well-managed European forests – is essential as Europe shifts away from a fossil-based economy towards a circular bioeconomy.
We hope the EU’s bioeconomy strategy will send a clear signal and include tangible actions on promoting renewable materials, how wood construction can be strengthened and help secure a strong political framework for innovation.
What are your next steps in the bioeconomy?
In the Biomaterials division, we’ll continue to focus on developing innovative new solutions based on renewable materials through our four product platforms and by developing our extraction technology. For example, this year we launched LineoTM by Stora Enso, a versatile renewable replacement for oil-based phenolic materials with applications in industrial resins used in the manufacturing of wood panels and engineered wood, e.g. plywood, oriented strand boards (OSB), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), paper lamination and insulation material. We are researching how to use LineoTM for other applications in the future, including carbon fibre and energy storage.
We’re also working on expanding our fluff capacity at our Skutskär Mill in Sweden, after a €26.5 million project is set to increase output by approximately 160,000 tonnes per year. Fluff pulp is mainly used in airlaid hygiene products, such as diapers, feminine care and adult incontinence products as well as tabletop products and wipes. Both hygiene and non-woven products are fast-growing markets and this capacity increase will enable Stora Enso to support our customers’ growth.
In addition, our Enocell Mill in Finland will be converted to focus entirely on the production of dissolving pulp, especially to respond to the growing demand in the textile industry. Dissolving pulp is used as a raw material replacing cotton and fossil-based materials, such as polyester. The dissolving pulp product segment is growing above the industrial average. This growth is driven by increased demand for sustainable, non-woven applications, and viscose-type fabrics in the textile industry.