The Stora Enso Story – a magical tale of trees and forests

January 26, 2019 |

It is said that one tree can affect the entire forest. If one tree has a pest problem or catches fire or any other plethora of issues, it can spread to neighboring trees and before you know it, you have a total wipeout. But can it work in the reverse? Can one big, beautiful tree spread its beauty to others? Can that one tree lead to a forest full of beautiful trees? We’d like to think so.

And there is one tree that is making the forest look quite lovely these days.

In today’s Digest, we talk about Stora Enso’s story – the renewable materials company that develops and produces wood and biomass based solutions for a range of industries and applications globally – what they have done recently that shouts innovation from the tree tops, what their plans are for the future, and what this could mean for the biomass industry as a whole.

The latest and greatest

Just last week, Stora Enso chose six startups to join its second Accelerator Programme, a joint startup initiative organised by Stora Enso, Aalto University Developing Entrepreneurship (Aalto ENT) and Vertical Accelerator. So yes, it looks like one tree can in fact impact other trees to make a magical forest.

The Accelerator program provides an exceptional opportunity for disruptive startups and Stora Enso to actively ideate and innovate new solutions. This year’s program focuses specifically on the circular economy, especially in regard to circular solutions, raw material management, packaging, separation and sorting, and energy.

“With global megatrends, the circular economy will play a significant role in business and society in the coming years. We are teaming up with startups to further explore how Stora Enso can best contribute,” says Malin Bendz, Executive Vice President, HR. “We have been greatly encouraged by our first Accelerator programme, which has resulted in two ongoing partnerships, with Sulapac and Trä Group, building on renewable solutions.”

Over the next few months, the startups will work side by side with Stora Enso participants, delving into and advancing know-how, capabilities, technologies and market opportunities. Co-location takes place at Vertical accelerator, one of the largest and most prominent startup communities in Finland.

Also last week, Stora Enso was top-rated in combatting global warming by the international non-profit organization CDP, which included Stora Enso on its new 2018 Climate A List. The list identifies global companies that are taking leadership in climate action.

Things looking up for forests?

Things are looking up if 2018 is any indication of a more sustainable biomass industry thanks to what Stora Enso is doing. As reported in the Digest in December 2018, Stora Enso and the Forest Stewardship Council signed an international partnership agreement establishing a long-term strategic collaboration to develop and promote sustainable forestry. The new partnership agreement aims to increase FSC certification, especially among small- and medium-sized private forest owners in the Nordics, Baltics, and across Europe. The aim is to increase the FSC certified wood supply.

In October 2018, the Digest reported that Stora Enso’s lignin won ‘Best Product Innovation’ at the ICIS Innovation Awards. Lineo, which was launched in early 2018 and is made from lignin, can be used in a range of applications for which fossil-based materials are currently used. It is a renewable replacement for oil-based phenolic materials, which are used in resins for adhesives, e.g. in plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), paper lamination and insulation material. In the future, Lineo can be developed into other types of binders and also used in carbon fiber and energy storage applications.

Trees are going beyond packaging and even addressing issues with fashion industry’s sustainability. As reported in NUU in December 2018, Stora Enso joined TreeToTextile AB, a joint venture between H&M group, Inter IKEA group and innovator Lars Stigsson, with the aim of developing new textile fibers in a sustainable way at attractive cost levels.

TreeToTextile’s process takes renewable forest raw material and regenerates the cellulose into a textile fiber. The technology has been tested in a pilot line in Sweden and is now to be scaled up with the construction of a demonstration plant at one of Stora Enso’s Nordic facilities.

Inter IKEA group and H&M group plan to use the fiber in their products, but the aim is that the entire industry should benefit from this sustainable fiber since it can be used in conventional supply chains. How’s that for one tree impacting the entire forest and changing the way things have been done to a more sustainable and renewable way of the future.

Stora Enso has also teamed up with Sulapac to combat the global problem of plastic waste by launching a demo for sustainable drinking straws based on Sulapac’s biocomposite material – made of wood and natural binders. As reported in NUU in December 2018, the demo, which targets production on an industrial scale, is designed to replace traditional plastic straws with renewable ones. The straws are designed to be recycled via industrial composting and biodegrade in marine environments.

Ok, so pretty much anything can be made from wood and biomass these days, offering a more renewable, sustainable option to non-renewable fossil-fuel based products. But it goes beyond that. The tree is impacting the forest in many ways…

Stora Enso has even launched wood-based biocomposites, DuraSense, as renewable replacement for plastic, as reported in NUU in May 2018. The DuraSense granules are a combination of natural wood fibers, polymers and additives offering the mouldability of plastic with the sustainability and workability of wood.

“Reducing the amount of plastic and replacing it with renewable and traceable materials is a gradual process. With DuraSense, we can offer customers a wood fibre-based alternative which improves sustainability performance and, depending on the product, significantly reduces the carbon footprint – all the way up to 80%,” says Jari Suominen, Head of Wood Products at Stora Enso.

As reported in NUU in October 2018, Stora Enso acquired Cellutech AB, a company specializing in the development of new materials and applications based on cellulose, micro-fibrillated cellulose (MFC) and other wood-based components.

In November 2018, the Digest reported that Stora Enso made a high-tech meets eco-friend move by launching a new sustainable paper-based RFID tag technology called ECO, designed for intelligent packaging functionalities in supply chain, retail and e-commerce applications. Stora Enso’s ECO technology enables the RFID tags to be produced on a 100% fibre-based paper label, unlike traditional plastic tags, resulting in a lower carbon footprint for sustainability conscious B2B and B2C companies.

What the future looks like

So what will the forest look like tomorrow and beyond?

The Digest caught up with Markus Mannström, Executive Vice President in Stora Enso’s Biomaterials division to get the scoop on their 2019 plans.

“Given the megatrends currently shaping the world – such as climate change, increased urbanisation and population growth – Stora Enso is in a unique position to provide more sustainable solutions, by working with wood – a raw material which is renewable, re-usable and fossil-free.

Innovation is key for sustainable growth. A key goal for 2019 is to become the leading R&D innovator in our sector because when we talk about creating value from renewable, reusable and fossil-free materials it is important to know the technology behind them well.

In 2019, the Biomaterials division is focused on three strategic pillars: firstly, maximising value from eucalyptus pulp by improving efficiency and cost-competitiveness of our joint venture in Montes del Plata.

Secondly, we want to differentiate our Nordic pulp business by moving towards a specialised pulp mix, increasing production of fluff and dissolving pulp while continuously improving production efficiency.

Thirdly, we want to generate sustainable, profitable growth from our key innovation platforms: improving pulp properties, creating a novel sustainable material from cellulose by focusing on regenerated cellulose, improving MFC material efficiency and performance, expanding lignin applications and replacing fossil-based materials for plastics with bio-based chemicals.

Our initial focus following LineoTM‘s launch was to replace phenol in glue and our next targeted lignin applications are carbon fibre and hard carbon for energy storage i.e. batteries.

We’re also looking at using our DuraSense™ biocomposites to produce granules, which can currently replace up to 50-60% of fossil-based materials very efficiently and can be used in all existing injection moulding equipment. We now have the biggest equipment in Europe to produce wood fibre-based biocomposites, inaugurated in our Hylte Mill in 2018, and we are ramping up production.

Ultimately, what is driving us at Stora Enso is that we know everything which is made with fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow.”

The Bottom Line

Stora Enso continues to explore applications for Lineo, and in 2019, they will be focused on researching Lineos use in formaldehyde-free binders, carbon fibre and energy storage. Lineo can already be used in resins for adhesives e.g. in plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), paper lamination and insulation material.

Stora Enso continues to test and develop its extraction technology at the company’s demonstration and market development plant in Louisiana, USA and Danville pilot plant in Virginia, USA. The plants are testing the fractionation technology of fibres, lignin and hemicellulose from different types of biomass, including wood species and sugarcane bagasse.

There is increased demand for non-woven applications and more sustainable, viscose-type fabrics in the textile industry and the Enocell capacity expansion should be finalized in 2019 as well.

We see these moves as Stora Enso’s way of spreading their branches and making not only the tree more sustainable, but the forest as well. Their positive impact will go beyond. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn,” and Stora Enso is planting lots of acorns.

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