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Forestry biomass potential

Using the full potential of forestry biomass through improved mobilisation and the creation of new products and markets.

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News from this sector
Paper, the forgotten forest destroyer

As the world awakes to the threat posed by palm oil and soy to our forests, it's in danger of overlooking how paper and packaging drives industrial logging, mis-shapes millions of hectares of forest landscapes and creates monoculture plantations.
From waste to construction

Researchers have examined which agroforestry residues are available for the development of bio-based materials.
Paper, the forgotten forest destroyer (14/02/2019)
As the world awakes to the threat posed by palm oil and soy to our forests, it's in danger of overlooking how paper and packaging drives industrial logging, mis-shapes millions of hectares of forest landscapes and creates monoculture plantations.
Awareness of the destruction wrought by deforestation for agricultural commodities such as beef and soy has - thankfully - grown in recent years among policymakers and the public. Responding to mounting pressure, the European Union (EU) has finally promised to put the issue centre-stage, with its proposed action plan on deforestation.

Less well known are the dangers of forest degradation and loss. This is where forest landscapes are changed, even if not deforested entirely.

Global Forest Watch have made the scale and impacts of this loss strikingly tangible, revealing almost 30 million hectares of forests were lost in 2017 (an area about the size of Italy), with a type of destruction that is on the rise.

Earlier analysis indicates that while about 27% of this forest loss is permanent deforestation, most of it is a different kind of forest loss, like shifting cultivation for rural livelihoods that allows the trees to grow back later, or wildfire.

n about a quarter of the cases, loss is caused by logging by mostly northern forest industries which are often turning natural forests into faster growing plantations, clear cutting northern boreal forests, or just turning diverse ecosystems into more manageable rows of trees.

EU studies into the drivers of deforestation claim that the impacts of forest industries, such as paper, are too small to bother with. But these statistics show that forest industries affect an area similar to that of deforestation, with significant impacts on forests' biodiversity, resilience and carbon storage capacity.

It's time the EU took a closer look at the industries driving this.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 35-40 per cent of the trees cut for industrial purposes will be turned into paper products. While much of this wood comes from above mentioned "forestry practices", there's clear evidence, including from Indonesia, that some of this wood also comes from deforestation.

The paper and pulp industry is not too choosy about the kind of wood fibre they need - it has to be plentiful, cheap and preferably fast-growing. Vast, monotonous plantations of eucalyptus, acacia and other rapidly-growing species are therefore the side-products of our paper consumption (this kind of wood is not of much interest to the sawnwood or veneer industry).

Paper and pulp industry needs have also been central to the development of "sustainable forest management" definitions which emphasise efficient growth and large volumes of wood, rather than diverse forest ecosystems or wood fibre quality. Thinning and clear-cutting suits the industry much better than the selective logging advocated by many European conservation groups.

As the coordinator of Environmental Paper Network International, people often ask me whether paper is worth worrying about as we move towards paper-free books, bills and news.

But the truth is that paper consumption is shifting, not reducing. Per capita paper consumption is slightly declining in the highest using areas such as the USA and Europe, but this decline has been more than compensated by the increase in paper consumption in Asia.

And while newsprint and printing paper consumption is indeed on the decline, this is more than compensated by the growth in wrapping and packaging paper. A striking 55% of global paper consumption is now made of wrapping and packaging, meaning global paper consumption is also on the rise - from 392 million tonnes in 2010 to 410 million tonnes in 2017.

This is bad news for the forests which are facing increasing pressures, and terrible news for the climate. Paper products have a short lifespan - on average half of the products (and the carbon they stored) are gone in just two years - and the other half doesn't last much longer. To meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals, we need to immediately move from using trees to produce packaging, to protecting and restoring them, cutting them only for long life products.

If we are serious about restoring our forest landscapes - whether for the sake of climate emissions, wildlife or livelihoods - we need go further than just trying to halt deforestation. To restore existing forests degraded by logging as well as degraded lands, we need less plantations and more complex forests that accumulate carbon in old trees and dense vegetation.

And for such a shift to be possible, we need to use less valuable wood fibres for industrial purposes and particularly for throwaway items like tissues, print papers and packaging, and more for products that store the carbon for longer periods.

The challenge to restore the world's forests should start with our paper consumption choices.


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From waste to construction (12/02/2019)
Researchers have examined which agroforestry residues are available for the development of bio-based materials.
Waste and other residues from agriculture and forestry are increasingly seen as a useful source for the production of clean sustainable and affordable high-value fuels or chemicals. To realise the full potential of cellulose-based non-edible biomass and agricultural waste as a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels it's crucial to assess their prevalence. Supported by the EU-funded REHAP project researchers have addressed the issue of how to forecast the availability of such feedstock. Their findings were published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

The questions raised by the paper are: "What feedstock shows the highest potential? Where is the feedstock spatially allocated? How will the supply develop in future?" The same journal article states: "The aim of this research was to develop a methodology for spatially explicit prediction of the theoretical, technical and bioeconomic potential of agricultural residues. The forecasting horizon is medium term and covers the period from 2017 to 2030."

The research focused on wheat straw, corn stover (stalks, leaves and cobs), barley straw and rapeseed straw. These represent 80 % "of cereals and oil crops harvesting residues in the European Union," according to the paper. It concluded: "The results indicate the largest increase of all investigated crops was for corn stover at up to 20 per cent between 2017 and 2030. Barley straw potentials are expected to stay rather constant within the coming decade. Rapeseed is the only crop likely to face a decreasing production in many regions in the coming years."

Creating green buildings from waste

The REHAP (Systemic approach to Reduce Energy demand and CO2 emissions of processes that transform agroforestry waste into High Added value Products.) project was launched to transform agricultural and forestry waste into bio-based materials. A newsletter on the project website summarises its objective: "The broader aim of the Rehap project is to create new materials for the construction sector that are derived from agricultural and forestry waste."

REHAP partners believe the forecast approach outlined in the 'Journal of Cleaner Production' article will ensure that the biomass used in Europe is sourced sustainably and will help the advancement of a circular economy without damaging other sectors.

"The publication of this paper will also provide other researchers access to the new and improved forecast, facilitating a significant step towards a greener and more resourceful use of natural resources in Europe, whilst promoting a more competitive bioeconomy," the same newsletter notes.

As explained in a factsheet on the project website agroforestry residues are already used in several areas including animal feed and bedding new farming technologies and horticulture. It notes that the project "is taking underutilised waste from agriculture and forestry and extracting lignin cellulose tannin and hemicellulose. It is then using these compounds to create biopolymers which can then be used to make high value-added construction materials which are normally derived from fossil fuels." It adds: "These compounds have the potential to replace a substantial share of the 50 Million tonnes (Mt) of crude oil currently used in the EU chemical industry."

For more information, please visit the REHAP project website


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Wood you believe it! Sustainable cartons hit the shelves (08/02/2019)
Finnish company Arla claims to be the first to deploy the sustainable packaging in supermarkets
A new packaging innovation involves lining paperboard cartons for milk, yoghurt and cooking products with wood-based bioplastics.

Finnish company Arla is planning to ship 40 million of the innovative packets out to supermarkets after listening to its customers' wishes to be able to shop more sustainably.

It says a thin plastic film is needed inside the carton for reasons of product safety and shelf life but adds the new product reduces the need for fossil-based plastics by 180,000 kilogrammes each year and reduces its carbon footprint by about a fifth.

Like traditional cartons, the new packaging can be recycled with cardboard.

Sari Mannonen, Vice President at UPM Biofuels, said: "We are very pleased to be working with a pioneer such as Arla, with whom we can further reduce the carbon footprint of paperboard packaging for liquids using our renewable raw material and this applies to the whole chain, up to the consumer.

"Also, by using wood-based raw materials we are not competing for raw materials with the food production industry, because tall oil is a residue of pulp production."


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Wood Biorefining in Scotland (01/02/2019)
One of IBioIC's key areas of focus over the next five years will be the development of supply chains, and one of the emerging supply chains for Scotland is wood biorefining.
Wood biorefining holds the promise of creating a circular way to produce every day consumer products like feed, fuels, materials and everyday household chemicals used throughout our daily lives. By upgrading our forest resources to these higher value products, we have the opportunity to design new processes with zero net carbon dioxide emissions. In Scotland, we have enough forest residues that could be made available for biorefining to support a commercial scale biorefinery. The most viable ways forward to build the emerging forest based biorefining industry are to attract inward investment of commercial scale ready technology providers, and simultaneously work with the Scottish wood supply chain companies to expand their capabilities into this field through collaboration and partnerships with biorefinery technology providers.

In addition to the industrial activities, it is also vitally important to grow to academics expertise in both wood processing and the upgrading of the extracted wood components into high value products and applications, IBioIC is currently engaging with academic groups, operators in the wood and forest residue supply chains, and state of the art biorefining technology providers to consult, support, finance, and facilitate the creation of this emerging industry in Scotland.

Clean Growth Opportunities for Scotland

The UK government announced on 13th December 2018 a world-first carbon 'net-zero' hub of heavy industry to help the UK seize global economic opportunities for clean growth.

The government announcement included funding of up to £170 million to help heavy industries like steel, ceramics, cement, chemicals, paper and glass to share expertise and innovative low-carbon solutions to clean up the air are we move to a greener, cleaner economy. The announcement also noted the value of the low carbon economy, indicating a potential worth of up to £170bn by 2030 with the potential to support up to two million jobs. This announcement shows that the UK government is aligned with the principles of decarbonisation and this is potentially good news for Scotland.

How do you de-carbonise the economy?

'Decarbonisation' is a wheel with many spokes - many of which can be addressed by adaption of the bioeconomy including:
- Finding alternatives, local sources of materials, thereby reducing transport costs and emissions.
- Using alternative 'green' fuels where transporting materials cannot be avoided.
- Using renewable sources of power.
- Developing new materials which require fewer resources to produce or acquire.
- Developing new processes to utilise materials which would otherwise be waste.

How is Scotland placed to capitalise on this?

IBioIC is involved in a number of projects running in Scotland already which use Scotland's natural resources, including its existing industries, its geography, and its abundance of renewable power sources.

The ASLEE project

A £2million, two-year project to explore ways to grow algae on an industrial scale using excess renewable energy. The project developed a novel internally-lit photobioreactor to provide the light needed by algae to grow, and also demonstrated that algae growth was not affected by intermittent light.

The ENBIO project

Built on the ASLEE project by developing a large scale algae facility on the Ardnamurchan Estate. The ENBIO project uses the novel photobioreactor developed in the ASLEE project to provide artificial light for growing the algae. The light can be externally turned on or off as grid requirements demand, meaning that the system is ideally placed to absorb excess power generated by renewable sources such as wind farms.

The Building Innovation Green Hydrogen Systems in Isolated Territories (BIG HIT) project

BIGHIT uses renewable energy generated on the island of Eday and Shapinsay to produce hydrogen from water, which can be stored as a high-pressure gas and is a clean-burning fuel.

How will Scotland benefit?

All of these projects are based in rural areas because that's where the resources are; whether timber or whisky co-product, or excess electricity generated from renewable sources. Rural communities often have a reduced infrastructure and fewer employment opportunities, making them vulnerable to a number of external forces. Facilities sited in rural areas not only make the most efficient use of available resources, but they can also offer a stable base upon which a more reliable infrastructure can be built.

If Scotland can maximise on the UK government's announcement via these projects and others like them, then we have the opportunity to be global leaders in many areas.

A few years ago, the US chemical industry saw a financial boom as a result of access to cheap shale gas, delighting its leading figures: "It's a phenomenal opportunity. This gift to American entrepreneurs, the wildcatters, the oil and gas drillers, have given the country: 100 years of natural gas supply. There's no country on the planet that wouldn't love to get that, and then use it." Andre Liversis, Chief Executive, Dow Chemical - quoted in the FT. This bonanza was a double-hit for the industry in supplying both cheap and raw materials and cheap power and generally powered a substantial upswing in the economy of the entire country. However, the terrible environmental consequences of such an "opportunity" is suffered by the rest of the world.

Scotland has the capacity - but without the awful environmental cost-using clean, carbon neutral, renewable power, making us a world-leader with thriving industries and accelerated innovation in exactly the sort of low-carbon and circular economies targeted by the Scottish and UK governments. It is clear that the installation of more and more renewable capacity in Scotland will give us a competitive, and green, advantage.


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Developing standards for bio-based industries (31/01/2019)
What are the current EU standards or other related issues that hamper the growth of bio-based products?
Standards play a crucial role in supporting the growth of the bio-based products market. They provide the certification of bio-based content, biodegradability or environmental sustainability of different products. However, inadequate standards can act as barriers for certain products. So, what are the current EU standards or other related issues that hamper the growth of bio-based products? The EU-funded STAR4BBI project has analysed these barriers and proposed actions towards overcoming them.

During the desk research as well as interviews with industry, several issues related to standards and certificates in the bio-based industry were identified. The STAR4BBI project carries out a workshop with the participants from the industry, associations, certification bodies, test houses and the European Commission. STAR4BBI wants to focus on drafting solutions for the following three issues:

Non-functional specifications
The functionality of materials or products on the requirements of the application. They must comply with tests based on these standards. An example of what are the standards that are applicable in the bio-based industry are climate tests, which ensure that the product is ready for various environmental conditions. The conditions for these climate tests are not based on actual transportation situations and are not representative of real life situations. For instance, a climate test has been developed for fossil-based products, considering that plastic is 100% resistant to relative humidity, which is never the actual environment. Bio-based products sometimes have the challenge of not passing this test due to their hydrophilic nature.

Compostability (EN 13432)
The standard requirements for composting standards are set out in EN 13432. The standard sets of requirements for the rate of biodegradation (at least 90% to be broken down to CO2 within six months at 58 ° C + / - 2 ° C), disintegration, chemical composition and quality of compost. The general opinion is that when the characteristics of bio-based plastics are in line with the EN 13432 standard, they can be compiled by industrial composters without complications. However, composters on the other hand composting installations in less than 12 weeks. The Dutch Waste Management Association (VA) states that composting time is around 2-3 weeks. At some composting installations the composting time is even shorter: between 5 and 18 days.

Double testing
When products cross borders, sometimes testing needs to be national or regional safety requirements. Private parties in different countries may also request certain safety requirements. Usually, these compliance tests are based on the same standards as in the "home" country. In practice, this often comes down to the same or similar testing on products twice. The costs of these tests are in most cases covered by the producer. "Double" testing is costly as well as time consuming. Although this is not a barrier to bio-based products, it also applies to non-bio-based products, bio-based product producers are usually not multinationals. The costs of testing are relatively high for smaller companies that enter a new market.

To deal with the identified issues, the responsible CEN, ISO or ASTM committees want to be identified and contacted. In the case where project partners do not have direct input on the responsible CEN or ISO committees, "Industry champions" want to identify to propose the amendments to the standards to the technical committees.


Take a look at the STAR4BBI SEED for more information about the project

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SWEETWOODS creates high purity lignin and affordable platform chemicals from wood-based sugars (25/01/2019)
SWEETWOOD's key aim is to develop a first-of-its-kind bio-fractionation flagship plant in Estonia to turn sustainable hardwood residues into high purity intermediate building blocks of cellulosic sugars and high-quality lignin.
The author and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, no stranger to the beauty of the natural world, famously said that "the wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more." So much of our world has its roots in our trees, from clothes and furniture to food and paper.

Now one project, SWEETWOODS, made up of nine European companies all of whom have wondered more about trees and their potential, is to begin producing wood-based biomaterials for the first time on an industrial scale.

This unique €43 million bio-economy project, funded by the Bio-based Industries Join Undertaking (BBI JU) is now underway, with its key aim of developing a first-of-its-kind bio-fractionation flagship plant in Estonia to turn sustainable hardwood residues into high purity intermediate building blocks of cellulosic sugars and high-quality lignin.

To learn more about this project that has such huge potential, Bio-Based World News', Luke Upton spoke exclusively to two members of the consortium, Matti Heikkilä CTO of Finland's pioneering enzyme technology company MetGen and Peep Pitk, R&D Manager of Europe's largest pellet producer Graanul Invest that is building up the wood fractionation flagship plant in Estonia.

Matti tells more about the origins of the project; "The concept began around five years ago. We knew about the potential of wood, that much more could be done with it and that a concept of biorefining could transform hardwood into higher added value products. Most of the solutions and technologies to make this happen were ready to be commercialised, but we just needed to match up the skills and partners to make the concept a reality."

For Peep the opportunities of the partnership are clear: "This project really is a gamechanger." He explains that it is outdated understanding that the only way to valorise technological wood is via highly resource demanding chemical pulping processes. The wood fractionation concept that we are working on can offer so much more by converting over 90 per cent of wood into useful high value products with small ecological footprint.

What is clear through the conversation with Matti and Peep is the clarity of the SWEETWOODS vision. Unlike some other projects that pass through the bio-economy, the goal, and commercial potential of the offering has been clear from the outset. The consortium powering the project connects all the links in the value chain and covers the entire material process.

By fractionating the wood into pure sugars and lignin it becomes possible to further refine the material into high added value products that can be used to replace oil-based chemicals and plastics. New bio-based consumer products including sports mats, insulation panels and replacements for plastics are just some of the items mentioned in our discussion. Alongside MetGen and AS Graanul Invest, the seven other members of the European wide consortium and Tecnaro Gesellschaft zur industriellen Anwendung Nachwachsender Rohstoffe MBH (Germany), Ultima GMBH (Germany), Recticel N.V. (Belgium), Global Bioenergies (France), 2B Srl (Italy), Vertech Group (France) and Spinverse OY (Finland).

There has been a "spirit of collaboration" among the partners from the very start, states Peep but the project has also been greatly supported by BBI JU, a public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-Based Industries Consortium (BIC) focused on developing the European bio-based economy.

"It's been very important to have had BBI-JU in supporting us. They have gathered industry experts and offer a long-term, experienced view of what is required to build a successful bioeconomy consortium that can deliver a commercial success," says Matti. "Without them it would have been far harder to forge this alliance," added Peep.

The next steps for the project are to build the flagship plant in Estonia to demonstrate its viability at industrial scale. But obviously there are all opportunities to take advantage of this innovative project's outcomes. "We are very much open for discussions and open for business. And by partnering now, you could still become an early adopter of the novel biomaterials in diversity of end-use cases. We believe this project will change the way the wood industry is perceived," Matti concludes.

Read more about the SWEETWOODS Project here