Cellulose foam, a bio-based packaging material being developed by forest industry major Stora Enso in Sweden won the “Cellulose Fibre Innovation of the Year 2021” in an award ceremony organised during the 2nd International Conference on Cellulose Fibres (CCF) that was held February 2-3, 2021. Cellulose foam was among six nominees up for the award, all recognised for the development of new technologies and applications in the cellulose fibre industry.
As a result of growing environmental awareness, bans for several single-use plastics (SUP) products fast approaching and restrictions and labelling for products containing fossil-derived plastic fibres, the demand for cellulose-based solutions is growing.
The growing demand, in turn, is leading to rapid technology development that is enabling material properties previously thought impossible for cellulose fibres – cellulose is becoming a versatile miracle material.
The first conference on cellulose fibres in 2020 hit the mark. We could give the growing industry an ideal platform for exchange and networking. The second conference continued the success and presented many new applications and solutions based on cellulose. Even though the corona year 2020 left its traces behind and the growth of previous years could not be continued, the industry is optimistic about the future and expects two-digit growth per year again soon, said Michael Carus, CEO of nova-Institute and initiator of the conference.
According to Germany-headed nova-Institut für politische und ökologische Innovation Gmbh (nova-Institute), a private and independent research institute that offers research and consultancy with a focus on bio-based and CO2 -based economy, the 190 participants from 22 countries responded well to the new online format of the 2nd International Conference on Cellulose Fibres (CCF).
The thematic focus was on strategies, markets, technologies and sustainability – and in particular on alternative sources for cellulose feedstock to reduce the demand for virgin cellulose. The two-day virtual event hosted 25 expert presentations, five panel discussions, and took over 150 questions from the audience.
Ranking by peers
Sponsored by compatriot Leverkusen-based LEVACO Chemicals GmbH, part of LEVACO Chemicals Group GmbH, the 190 or so participants of the conference, chose the three winners of the innovation award “Cellulose Fibre Innovation of the Year 2021”.
Granted for the first time ever, the participants chose the winners from six finalists that were nominated an expert advisory board, and that presented themselves at the conference in a ten-minutes presentation and ran as candidates.
During the conference, the three winners bore eloquent witness to this development and they presented products that, without sacrificing performance, completely avoid plastics and further reduce costs and carbon footprint thanks to more efficient processes.
- First place: Stora Enso (Sweden): Cellulose Foam by Stora Enso – a lightweight cellulose foam for packaging. “Cellulose Foam by Stora Enso” is a lightweight foam material made from cellulose. It is designed as an eco-friendly alternative for fossil-based packaging and cushioning materials such as expanded polystyrene (EPS) aka “Styrofoam” or polyethylene (PE). The foam has comparable shock-absorbing and insulating properties whilst being bio-based, biodegradable, compostable and recyclable in ordinary paper and board recycling infrastructure. Development work and scale-up around this technology is ongoing along with the building of a pilot facility at Stora Enso’s Fors Mill in Sweden. The pilot aims to evaluate and validate cellulose foam as a packaging foam in customer tests and to further develop the production process. It is estimated that the plant will be ready in the fourth quarter of 2021.
- Second place: Kelheim Fibres (Germany): Fibre solutions for plastic-free absorbent hygiene products. Kelheim Fibres developed plant-based fibre solutions for absorbent hygiene products (AHP). These comprise speciality fibres for the single layers of AHP with different functionalities: a hydrophobized fibre for the top-sheet, a trilobal fibre for the acquisition/distribution layer and a hollow fibre for the absorbent core. These biodegradable and sustainably manufactured fibres enable the replacement of plastic fibres without a loss of performance. The material has the potential to be used also for the production of textiles, such as reusable menstrual underwear. First commercial end-products using Kelheim’s fibre solutions are developed and intended to be launched this year
- Third place: Metsä Spring (Finland): Textile fibre based on paper-grade pulp. Metsä Group has developed a new, energy-efficient process to produce high-quality cellulose fibres for the textile sector, based on a new solvent family. Using ionic liquids, cellulose fibres can be produced from paper grade pulp, avoiding the use of energy-intensive dissolving pulp, which is promising in terms of ecological and economic advantages. This allows tapping into further markets for sustainable textiles.