New kind of gold from Nordic forests

​Lignin is an organic material that binds the fibres and cells of wood. The word lignin may not be familiar to many, but there is a lot of anticipation and excitement around this material. Why?

   

Photo: Vesa Laitinen

Experts say that lignin may eventually be one of the new renewable materials extracted out of the green gold of the Nordic forests. Stora Enso's Sunila Pulp Mill in Finland will, in the future, extract lignin from pine and spruce.

 

Following the biorefinery investment announcement made in July, there is an air of excitement at the mill.

The first dedicated biorefinery investment is expected to be completed in early 2015. Mill Director Olli-Pekka Reunanen is pleased, and with good reason. Installing the new machinery in the architectural milieu that dates back to 1938 is an enjoyable challenge for the mill staff. "We won't be building new buildings; instead, the idle buildings in the mill area will be used to house the machinery required for the biorefinery," explains Reunanen.

 

Prior to making the 32-million-euro investment decision, Stora Enso carefully looked into areas where lignin extraction would be profitable. Sunila is Stora Enso's first, but probably not its last, biorefinery dedicated investment.

 

Stora Enso has been researching lignin and its attributes for more than a decade.

"Lignin is a challenging and complex material; it's an honour to be a pioneer in this area. At the same time, we are taking a leap into new and previously uncharted markets, but Stora Enso is in a good position to develop commercially viable applications from lignin," says Mikael Hannus of the Biomaterials's Biorefinery and Bioenergy unit.

 

The initial markets are anticipated in, for example, the construction and automotive industries, where lignin offers a sustainable alternative to the phenols used in plywood and wood-panelling glues and the polyols used in foams. Other applications are also under development.