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Forest fibre is back in fashion

There is no doubt about it: forest fibre is so back in fashion. Quite literally as last week there was a fashion show in Stockholm showcasing designer clothing from wood-derived textiles.

Camilla Wikström, Vice-President and Bioproduct Mill Manager for Metsä Fibre speaking about the Äänekoski “bioproduct” mill during the SPCI conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

Camilla Wikström, Vice-President and Bioproduct Mill Manager for Metsä Fibre speaking about the Äänekoski “bioproduct” mill during the SPCI conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

It was part of a pulp and paper convention. According to Camilla Wikström, VP & Bioproduct Mill Manager, Metsä Fibre, the current market for cellulose-based textile fibres is around 5 million tonnes with about 5 percent annual growth. Furthermore she suggested that there is a distinct opportunity to replace cotton fibres where the current market size is six times larger.

Fascinating thought having a “Treeshirt” with “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK” printed on it to wear at a “save the planet” type of environmental transport meeting. Arrive in style in carbon composite car fuelled with cellulosic ethanol. Chill out on a vanilla flavoured ice-cream gently taken out of its barrier-coated paper wrapping while carefully holding onto the stick. As sarcastic and provocative as that may sound, all of the forest-derived components are commercially available. Some have been on the market for quite some time, Norwegian pulp and paper major Borregaard have been producing cellulosic ethanol since 1938 worth bearing in mind in the whole 2nd generation biofuels discussions. Incidentally they also produce vanilla flavour, which is derived from lignin.

The point is that forest fibre is used everywhere and often in things taken for granted, textiles, materials, fuels, food ingredients and packaging. The latter is something that Mondi Group has taken to the wood pellet industry, a paper based packaging for bagged pellets also featured in this issue. The forest fibre also has to come from somewhere, a working forest sustainably managed for a variety of purposes, economic, environmental and recreational. It has to be harvested and moved from the forest to industry to be processed. This requires machinery and equipment as well as skilled operators.

Wikström said an awful lot more about what has to be one of the most exciting forest industry projects in today’s bio-buzzword world but it would be a spoiler for the upcoming IWB week later this month to divulge more. Instead check out the appetizer, better yet come to the event (we’re at stand A01:25) – if you can put “bio” in front of the noun the Äänekoski “bioproduct” mill, or for that matter, one of the other forest industry majors will probably have it.

This issue also marks the 15th anniversary since the very first edition of Bioenergy International appeared – issue one was launched in May 2001 at the Sustain 2001 exhibition held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. With its four pages, the debut was really more of a biomass manifesto. A forest fuel one at that as it was entirely devoted to “Pellets, the new international fuel for large scale as well as for small scale consumers.” It had a site report entitled “Production and use of pellets” with a detailed run through of the then new 90 000 tonne per annum Bioenergi i Luleå AB pellet plant headed by Roger Lehtonen, a well known figure in green circles.

Fifteen years on and Lehtonen has come back full circle to Bioenergi i Luleå, which, unlike the exhibition is still operational despite the current challenged state of the European pellet markets as reported from the Argus conference. Yet pellets have grown into an international industry with trade bodies, certification, quality and sustainability standards and production around the world – who would have thought in 2001 that Thailand’s pellet production capacity would be as big as pellet production is in France or Spain today? And who would have guessed that Drax Power in the UK would use more than the three combined?

Bioenergy International too has “sustained” itself ever since. That though is entirely thanks to you, our readers and advertisers, some of whom have been with us from the very start as have my two eminent colleagues. None mentioned, none forgotten but one and all are greatly appreciated.

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