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Glues, vanilla and aerospace. Lignin becomes a reality.

Glues, vanilla and aerospace. Lignin becomes a reality.

I’ve been working in R&D for over 30 years, and lignin has always been of great interest. Not just to me, but to many of us working closely with wood fibres and chemicals, and concerned about finding alternatives to oil-based materials. 

Lignin (Lignum) means wood in Latin, and it’s one of the most important things in a tree. If you compare trees to housing construction, the lignin is the cement. Lignin is found in and between the cells in wood. It keeps the cells from collapsing – that’s how trees grow higher and higher – and helps to prevent rot. After cellulose, it’s the second most abundant organic polymer.

Extracted from the tree, there has been no doubt of the potential of lignin. But the quality is not stable so it’s difficult to have the same recipe which would be needed for consistent, high volume production. It was the fear of an oil crisis that sparked the people in our industry to pick up the pace on development and solve some of the practical issues.

At the time, phenol had our attention, as phenols are derived from oil and used widely in any number of applications including for binding agents or adhesives. The market is considerable. Lignin, being a polyaromatic network, is a suitable substitute for phenol during production of phenol-formaldehyde adhesives and it has also attracted significant attention as a renewable substitute to primarily aromatic chemical precursors currently sourced from the petrochemical industry.

Besides replacing phenol and its more traditional use as a biofuel, lignin can be used for cement to provide more credible thickening. Another application is as a replacement for bitumen (a cousin to conventional crude oil) in asphalt production for roads, roofing and some isolation materials. A little-known fact, lignin can also be used in the production of vanilla flavouring.

What’s more, lignin is a good substitute for production of carbon fibres with its high chemical resistance, stiffness and strength as well as low weight. Carbon fibres are used quite a bit in aerospace and automotive industries for components and structures, among other applications. Imagine lignin in space!

Unlocking the potential of lignin, to replace fossil-based materials, has been a focus for Stora Enso for a number of years. The Sunila Mill in Finland is the world’s first integrated lignin extraction plant to produce dry kraft lignin and fire it directly in the mill’s lime kiln and replace fossil-based fuel.

We are additionally packing lignin for sales to external customers. We use the same wood types every time, with the same level of purity and in the same processes, so we know exactly what we are getting. Same recipe, stable quality.

Suffice it to say, lignin has come to stay. Industries are catching on, research institutes and universities are concentrating more on it. At Stora Enso’s Innovation Centre in Sickla, Stockholm, we are exploring all the aspects of lignin at small and large scale – and importantly, collaborating with customers to put lignin into their reality.

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Ben Nasli Bakir

Business Development Manager

Growth with responsible action

Growth with responsible action

The objective of the bioeconomy is to reduce climate effects and dependence on fossil-based raw materials, as well as to use resources as efficiently as possible. 

Today, it is more and more evident that an economy based on fossil fuels and other non-renewable materials is no longer viable for the long-term. There are more people, consuming more, and using up finite resources. Nor is it sustainable to depend on the traditional business model to produce, consume and waste. Fossil fuels are not just diminishing, but the products based on them are also creating mounds of waste products that will take generations to degrade.

In response, the bioeconomy can help to combat global warming, based on renewable sources that can be ‘regrown,’ recycled, re-used for energy, or naturally degraded.

In bioeconomy sectors, there is huge potential to use the world’s resources in a better way. The bioeconomy isn’t new. It’s been around for hundreds of years, using renewable biological resources to produce goods and services that are green. The difference now is that we are seeing the problems and limitations of fossil fuels, and there is a more urgent call for viable, innovative and sustainable alternatives if we are going to safeguard our future.

Stora Enso in the bioeconomy

At Stora Enso, we realised early on that responding to current megatrends and embarking on a transformation towards a low-carbon economy could not be left to the last minute. This is why we have made it our objective to become a leading provider of renewable materials.

With our foundation in wood-based materials and solutions, we are in a strong position to contribute to the bioeconomy. Our materials are renewable and recyclable, and we have the building blocks for a range of solutions that can help replace products based on fossil fuels and other non-renewable materials. We make every effort to use 100% of a tree, for our timber and other products as well as bioenergy. In production, we are driving down the use of fossil fuels as much as technically and commercially feasible.

What can a tree do? With microfibrillated cellulose (MFC), we can make packages stronger and lighter, significantly reducing fibre, water, energy and transport requirements. We have fibre-based packaging materials that can start life as beverage cartons, and then be re-used in the production of linerboard, copy paper, and tissue paper, in some cases recycled up to seven times before finally being recovered as renewable energy. Wooden buildings and constructions store carbon and can help to reduce the use of concrete and steel, biocomposites reduce the need for fossil polymers used in plastics, and lignin can replace phenol in glues. Biomaterials and biochemicals will open new horizons in numerous applications. Digitalisation and automation gives us the opportunity to make raw material sourcing and production even more efficient, as well as intelligent packages to help protect products and reduce waste.

This is just the beginning. A growing awareness of the need for sustainable solutions is altering consumer attitudes, behaviours and demand, affecting our industry and our customers. So there is pressure for change. We all need to work towards ensuring that we don’t burden the planet with more than it can handle. This is what the bioeconomy is all about. This is the transformation – not just for us, but for economies and society.

Per Lyrvall, Executive Vice President, Legal
Seppo Parvi, Chief Financial Officer 
Ulrika Lilja, Executive Vice President, Communications

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Dialogue for renewable construction

Dialogue for renewable construction

With growing concern for global energy use, carbon emissions and non-reusable or non-degradable waste – we need greater cooperation throughout the construction industry to promote the use of low-carbon and renewable construction materials.

The construction value chain involves many integral stakeholders from educators and city planners to developers, contractors, architects, suppliers and consultants. Sharing knowledge and collectively learning by doing is essential to make the construction industry more sustainable.

The benefits of wood – more than just low-carbon

Cleaner, safer and more efficient, wooden building constructions can also help to reduce carbon emissions in expanding cities and communities. The manufacture of timber, for example, produces over 97% less CO2 than steel [1]. At the same time, wooden buildings store carbon throughout the whole lifecycle.

Wooden elements can additionally benefit the construction process by reducing construction time, site waste and noise. Logistical costs can be trimmed down as timber weighs a quarter than that of reinforced concrete, which allows timber to be transported by fewer trucks or even by rail or boat to reduce transport-related emissions.

Cooperation and experience feedback

Despite the advantages of wood, there is still a general lack of awareness in the construction industry – not just of what is possible with wood, but also the perceived risks. Here, Stora Enso has taken a key role in bringing the different stakeholders together, and sharing knowledge and experience from wooden construction throughout the value chain.

For example, we have developed open source “Building Systems” guidance and tools for the construction industry, using components such as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL). This guidance includes how building regulations for fire and acoustics can be met in different markets. Our tools also enable cost analyses and provide architectural guidelines for up to 12-storey buildings.

A dynamic dialogue is further promoted through “experience feedback”, which is provided to help stakeholders to refine and optimise project designs and processes based on the experiences from others in the building ecosystem. Universities are also important in raising awareness of the potential of engineered wood among our builders of the future.

From my perspective, this kind of cross-sector cooperation has the potential to revolutionise the construction industry – to not only promote sustainability, but to reduce costs on construction projects and streamline construction processes. A win-win for all of us.


[1] Source: VTT Technology 115 and the European ECO2 project, 2013

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Jessika Szyber

Business Development Manager Sweden, Stora Enso Building Solutions

Internet of Things: what’s it got to do with forestry?

Internet of Things: what’s it got to do with forestry?

The “Internet of things” (IoT) is a concept that has the potential to dramatically change our society in the coming years – but what could it mean for forestry?

Imagine a network of drones or satellites remote sensing our forests and plantations to enable instant access to real-time information on everything – from tree growth and full inventory data for planning models, to the detection of forest fires, disease and even theft.

What if these real-time planning models could be automatically uploaded into harvesting machines to provide operators with the latest real-time digital harvesting map that includes streams, site features, hills, and geo fences to protect historical objects. The model might also inform operators of the wood quality in individual standing trees – ensuring the right log is sent to the right mill to guarantee the highest value end use.

Once they are harvested and scanned (internally as well as externally) by the harvesting machines and tagged with their own specific information, these “smart logs” could then allow mill machines to be automatically optimised to get the very best out of each log – as well as providing a digital proof of chain of custody for traceability and forest certification purposes.

This all may sound like something from the realm of science fiction or some distant future. But with the prospect of IoT, this vision could actually become reality in the forest industry sooner than many people think.

The promise of greater connectivity

The fact is that many of these solutions and technologies are already available to us – including affordable drone technology, high-tech harvesting machines capable of uploading detailed digital forest plans, and even geo fences to protect sensitive objects. What we currently lack is connectivity, and this is where IoT comes in.

The IoT is the network of physical devices, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

Connectivity would enable us to optimise the entire forest industry value chain – from creating accurate forestry planning models based on actual real-time data, to ensuring we get the most value out of each individual tree. This not only has the potential to significantly enhance operational efficiency, but also the overall sustainability of forest industry operations.

With technological advancements seemingly progressing at an ever-increasing pace, watch out for signs of science fiction in a forest or mill near you.

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Ian Blanden

Managing Director, Stora Enso Guangxi Forestry

Food (waste) for thought

Food (waste) for thought

Food waste is a major problem in the world. It’s an environmental issue, as well as social and economic. It’s about conscious consumption. It’s also about solidarity in making sure food is not taken for granted and that communities around the world have what they need for a healthy and growing population.

In Western countries, consumers and retailers alike contribute to waste. At home, consumers simply buy too much food and don’t use it all. At the point of purchase, grocers and other retailers have a tendency to keep an oversupply in order to look good on the shelves. In both cases, major amounts of food are likely to end up in the waste bin. In developing countries, the problem is somewhat different. Waste can occur in the distribution chain from field to fork where the food can spoil and thus needs to be thrown away.

While we’re wasting food on the one end, we’re also straining the planet on the other. Think about all the resources and water required for food production at the very start of the chain. There are also considerable CO2 emissions from the food sector. That’s not to say we don’t need food, however we want to find the right balance in consumption and production.

Suitable and sustainable packaging solutions can help. Packaging serves to ensure that food comes in a healthy and safe way, and when designed to align with consumer behavior, it can help to cut waste. Responding to global trends, this is just the kind of thing that Stora Enso is working with.

One trend affecting consumer behavior, for example, is the growing number of single person households and smaller family units in major markets. There are more young people and more retirees living alone. In this light, packaging can be designed for the quantity actually needed for a meal. No more and no less.

Additionally, with more consumers on the move in a busy modern world, there is far more eating ‘on-the-go’. Packaging can be specially designed to meet this kind of consumption, while also helping to reduce waste. Packaging of food-on-the-go should help consumers eat their meal safely and hygienically. Once the meal is eaten, the packaging should be easy to collect for recycling.

Keeping food fresh in the distribution chain is another challenge where packaging helps. The transport and storage for chilled food products and unchilled food products require different kinds of packaging solutions to avoid spoilage. With both, we need to look at the total life cycle and optimal material combinations.

In today’s world, we have many new tools at our advantage, intelligent packaging among them. In the supply chain, digital tags in the packaging can indicate if temperatures in transport or storage need to be adjusted to prevent spoilage. At home, consumers often throw food because they ‘think’ it’s bad – a signal in the packaging could indicate if ‘in fact’ it’s good or bad.

When it comes to packaging, of course, there’s also the important issue of materials in terms of what’s best for consumers and the environment. Glass, plastic or board? In the case of board, we can be assured of responsible sourcing, lower CO2 emissions and systems for collection and recycling. For Stora Enso’s part, responsible sourcing is managed via our supplier Code of Conduct. Our fibres can also be forest certified which helps consumers understand that they are responsibly sourced. The low carbon footprint of wood-based products is mainly due to the uptake of CO2 in the trees. The tree is both a climate smart material as well as a bio-fuel for energy. Generally, paper products are recycled at a significantly higher level than plastics. However, not all paper packaging grades reach the same high recycling level as e.g. corrugated board.  

Food for thought? For all of us – consumers, producers and retailers – it’s about responsibility and taking some cooperative and innovative steps to reduce waste. Packaging can help in many small ways to solve a big problem. Let’s not waste our future.

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Ola Svending

Director Sustainability, Consumer Board Division, Stora Enso

More renewable and cost effective food packaging

More renewable and cost effective food packaging

Despite food and beverage carton packaging comprising mainly of natural fibre-based materials, most packaging on sale today still includes barrier coatings made from fossil-based plastics. With time and scale, “Green” plastic barriers made from biomass have the potential to be a more renewable alternative, which can also reduce the carbon footprint without increasing costs.

Food packaging should ensure food safety and quality, minimise spoilage, and provide a convenient way of storing perishable goods. Barrier coatings are typically used to provide fibre-based food packaging with an oxygen barrier that keeps the packaged food or beverage fresh for longer.

Researching renewable and cost effective alternatives

I completed my Stora Enso-sponsored PhD in February 2017 in the field of barrier coatings. My research involved analysing and comparing the performance of various conventional barrier coating solutions on the food and beverage market, as well as more renewable alternatives – both from an environmental and financial cost perspective. I also conducted theoretical studies and interviewed industry key stakeholders.

My key findings were that more renewable “green” plastic barriers made from biomass can reduce the carbon footprint of the packaging by around 30% – without increasing production costs.

Taking green packaging seriously

Some more environmentally responsible green packaging is already used today in some of the packaging we buy, which shows that certain brands are taking the environmental impacts of their packaging seriously. Such packaging solutions are also increasingly in demand among consumers – although I think brands need to make the labelling of green packaging more prominent and understandable for the consumer.

We also need to raise the relatively low level of awareness of more renewable packaging solutions among consumers. Greater awareness of the environmental benefits of green packaging, combined with clearer and more understandable labelling, could give more responsible brands a competitive advantage in the market – particularly as greener packaging is not necessarily more expensive. Packaging design is also important to ensure consumers can easily get all the food out of the packaging, which can help avoid food waste.

Renewable barriers are the future

Biomass-based packaging plastic barriers is one of several solutions we are currently looking at to reduce environmental impacts. Another recent example includes Stora Enso’s Lahti 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships disposable cups with a compostable Bio coating.

Green barriers pose manufacturing challenges, and they tend to be more moisture sensitive than fossil-based barriers. But I believe we will overcome these issues and we will see more and more renewable packaging coating solutions on the shelves of our stores in the near future.

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Åsa Nyflött

Research Scientist, Stora Enso

Exclusively Eco

Exclusively Eco

What makes luxury packaging luxurious? Material, design, intelligence – with the element of eco.

We might define the luxury market by price points, but what defines the price? It could be in the craftsmanship and quality, the story the brand tells and the people it represents. Luxury implies exclusivity, ‘something not everybody has’. Namely, it’s in the mind of the individual consumer.

For the luxury brand, packaging can also play a big role in how a product is perceived and valued. To that end, our teams at Stora Enso are focused on material, design and intelligence that can add to the luxury factor as well as the sustainability aspect of a brand.

As a material, wood-based fibres are quite suited to the discriminating consumer. For example, the tactile properties of a product or package have become more and more important in brands. Wood-based fibres can provide a softer and more textured, luxurious feeling compared to plastic. Molded fibres can be used for high-end inserts, instead of plastics. Wood plastic composites can be made into corks, screw caps and dispensers like we’d find in luxury cosmetics, and give a ‘holistic’ feeling to the overall product.

In terms of design, how the package is made and can provide gains in the value chain are equally important to the look and functionality. Carton board can be made lighter or stiffer, for example, with micro-fibrillated cellulose (MFC), or even thinner with MFC and biocomposites, making it more efficient.

Packaging tells a story too and needs to align with the brand, particularly in luxury markets. This can be challenging, for instance, with growing e-commerce. Even here, the outer package material and design will affect how the consumer reacts to the brand.

Intelligence is another feature that can single out a brand. Intelligent packaging can be used to assure a consumer that their high price product is not counterfeit. Digital tags can further enhance the brand by enabling direct communication and information between brand owner and consumer.

That brings me to the eco element. Do luxury consumers care? Do they actively seek brands and products that are seen as ecologically friendly?

We see growing eco-awareness, particularly among the 20-45 age group. However, with so many conflicting messages in different markets, it’s hard for consumers to know what’s sustainable and what’s not.

Trees are renewable, they grow back. Carton board comes from renewable wood fibres. That’s one part of the sustainability equation. Additionally, Stora Enso works sustainably and responsibly in the forests, operations and communities to do everything we can to make the friendliest use of this ‘green’ resource.

With renewable wood fibres, there’s luxury – and a good conscious.

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Urban Greening

Urban Greening

As our societies become increasingly urbanised, wood-based products and solutions have enormous potential to help make cities around the world more liveable through ‘urban greening’.

A few years ago, I attended a conference on city design and became very interested in how modified wood products could be used to improve urban environments for city dwellers – particularly in hot climates where the use of wood is limited.

In the summer, cities and congested areas with little greenery, and large amounts of metal, glass and concrete, become significantly hotter than the surrounding countryside. This ‘urban heat island effect’ increases the energy used for air conditioning, and can make life very uncomfortable for city dwellers.

Taking the heat off cities

Inspired by this challenge, Stora Enso has been working on potential solutions that could reduce the urban heat island effect in cities. We began with a concept to use modified wood to create urban structures that could act as shading or man-made trees, which block UV and reduce temperatures at street level. Modified wood is durable yet light, and buffers rather than reflects heat, which lends itself to use in hot climates.

We have worked together with the AIDIMA Technology Institute in Spain and the Aalto University Wood Studio in Finland to further explore the potential opportunities. Extensive interviews with city planners and municipality representatives in Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and France, highlighted both the demand and opportunities for wood-based structures. Such renewable material alternatives to concrete and steel have huge potential to provide shelter, technological integration, and soften man-made urban environments. Several prototype designs and structures were prepared by the institute and shown as examples during the interviews.

The most interesting applications include street shading, walkways, bus shelters, street lighting, and building surfaces and structures to absorb heat at street level and prevent buildings from overheating in the summer through the natural cellular structure of wood. Instant street shading, for example, can be incorporated into new urban developments in the Middle East where smart city design is essential to create a liveable environment in the desert.

Developing solutions

This is just the start. Stora Enso has also been developing bio composites, which can be used to create low-maintenance and impact resistant structures that would work well in demanding built environments where issues, such as graffiti, pollution and high amounts of foot traffic, are common challenges. Our range of modified wood products, including ThermoWood and resin treated products, has the potential to fuel a new rapidly growing market for wood-based materials used for numerous purposes in every day urban design.

Enhancing urban liveability

Progress has been made with some urban heat islands around the world, such as the man-made Supertrees in Singapore and an interesting innovation in France where man-made trees have been turned into mini wind farms. These trees are today made from steel, concrete and plastic, but could be made from modified wood and bio composites in the future.

Given population growth and urbanisation, the need for materials and structures for urban greening will no doubt increase in the coming years. I’d like to think we can really make a difference in the world by replicating the functionality of trees in urban environments with creative and highly functional wood-based structures – to enhance both urban liveability and the aesthetics of our city environments.






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Duncan Mayes

VP Group R&D & Technology, Stora Enso Oyj

Can the Finnish forest become a center for sustainable fashion?

Can the Finnish forest become a center for sustainable fashion?

I would never have imagined back in 2011, the year I returned to Stora Enso, that about five years later I would be speaking in a big conference in London wearing a dress made out of our wood fibers. And not any dress, but one designed by Tuula Pöyhönen from Marimekko and produced from sustainable Northern Karelian birch fibers thanks to a revolutionary process called Ioncell.

Our journey in the fashion industry started in the year 2011 when our Enocell mill began to produce textile pulp. Looking back at the development, it has been truly challenging journey that has pushed us to constantly learn new things while questioning the old, always building on our company’s cultural heritage of sustainable forestry and innovative thinking.

Today, the demand for textiles is increasing due to population growth and the rise of disposable incomes as well as the emergence of fast fashion. To give you a little perspective: in the 1960´s, an American man owned six outfits on average, and women owned nine. 10% of their income was spent on textiles, for which they got around 25 pieces of clothing. Forty years later, we spend on average 3.5% of our income for 70 pieces of garments.

The growing textile industry faces big challenges due to an increasing amount of textile waste. In the United States, for example, only 15% of textiles are recycled and the remaining 85%, 11 million tons of garment, ends up in dumps. This situation is not unique to America – textile consumption in Europe on the same path.

Quickly changing trends have led many fashion companies to manufacture small batches of garments, inexpensively, on a constant basis. The market entry time of a piece of clothing from the designer´s table to the consumer has decreased from 18 months in the 1980´s to 3 weeks.

Up to 70% of textiles are manufactured from non-renewable petroleum based fibers, while the share of cotton, the main alternative to oil-based fibers, has come down to 20%. Cotton is a natural fibre, but its cultivation requires a high amount of water required for it to grow. As an example, making one pair of cotton jeans takes about 7000 litres of water, while producing the same jeans using the Ioncell technology only requires 3% of that amount. The water saved, 6790 liters, equals about the amount of water a person would consume over ten years. Additionally, to maximize crops yield, traditional cotton farming uses fertilizers and pesticides which can damage local eco-systems.

The use of wood-based fibres in the textile industry is only 6%. They have a higher cost compared with polyester and cotton, however wood-based fibres are the only fibres in the world that combine the advantages of cotton and petroleum-based fibres: good moisture management and brightness. These facilitate printing detail and a long-lasting pattern. In addition, viscose fibres have a unique set of properties that no other fibre can deliver: lustre and drape.

Since 2012, Stora Enso has focused on understanding the textile value chain better. We are working on development projects such as the Ioncell technology, on which we collaborated with Aalto University, Helsinki University and Marimekko to try and revolutionise the fashion industry with a renewable and recyclable fibre and a transparent value chain. For our part, Stora Enso is at the very beginning of the value chain and we can ensure a sustainable and renewable raw material, whereas at the other end of the value chain, Marimekko creates and provides long-lasting and high-quality designer textiles.

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Sirpa Välimaa

Technical Customer Service Manager Dissolving Pulp at Stora Enso

Commandments for the bio revolution

Commandments for the bio revolution

The push towards the bioeconomy, one favouring products made from biomass and other renewable, bio-based materials, is being driven both by policymakers and the market. As a sustainability communicator, I am proud to work with companies to help communicate and market bio-based products. Here are some take-home messages I would like to share based on this experience.

If we can’t consume less, we need to consume better.

Consumers will always want to buy ‘stuff’. We increasingly measure our quality of life by the status we appear to gain from all this ‘stuff’. So we need to rethink how ‘stuff’ is produced, the energy it uses and how it is disposed of if we are to move to a more sustainable model of consumption and production.

How do biomaterials fit into this picture? If the plastics and chemicals in the products we consume are made from renewable raw materials instead of fossil fuels, it would help reduce our dependence on oil and gas. If the feedstocks are renewable and plant-based, we could reduce our carbon emissions and start to mitigate climate change. And if the packaging and products themselves are biodegradable and sustainable, we could also reduce the amount of waste.

The bio revolution is already happening. Not only are bio-based chemicals and plastics able to replace their petroleum-based equivalents as drop-ins, they are making new materials possible through the creation of a whole new chemistry set.

Back up your sustainability claims with data.

Life cycle analysis (LCA) is one way to measure impact in the production, use and end-of-life phases. LCA takes into account everything from raw materials to waste or recycling and goes further than a carbon footprint analysis. Cradle-to-cradle certification goes even further.

I firmly believe that the bioeconomy and particularly bio-based chemicals and plastics are the way forward. But there is no silver bullet. Every decision we take has a knock-on effect and every material choice has an impact.

Work out where the ‘waste’ is coming from.

It should be more sustainable to use forestry or agricultural waste for bio-based chemicals than to compete for food crops. However, the industry needs to be realistic about the supply of waste that is available for second generation bio-based chemicals.

Forestry or agricultural waste is not just lying around waiting for industry to cart it away for free. Either it is being used on the farms and forests for silage, mulch or power generation or it is already being sold. These residues already have a value and as demand increases, so will the price. Crops grown specifically for bio-based chemicals are another option but this leads to indirect land use change.



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Kathryn Sheridan.

CEO, Sustainability Consult

Stora Enso blog

Blogs on Renewable Future cover a range of topics around the impacts of climate change and other global trends, sustainable consumerism, development and advantages of various renewable solutions, packaging, building solutions, biomaterials, paper, forestry, the potential of a tree and our responsibility as world citizens.

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