Innovating fluff pulp for a comfortable future

Published 12 March 2019 by Kirsi Seppalainen
Our society is changing, and today’s lifestyles are having a big impact on consumer demand. This affects many areas of industry. In the hygiene and non-woven sector, for example, urbanisation and the growing and ageing population are driving the trend towards disposable products and creating higher demand for hygiene and healthcare products.

There is also growing eco-awareness among consumers. They want products with natural ingredients, safety, minimal environmental impact as well as comfort and ease of use.

Fluff pulp is a material that’s renewable, reusable and ultimately biodegradable. In fact, it’s one of the most sustainable raw materials around. The raw material that we use comes from sustainable managed Nordic forests, where overall yearly growth exceeds harvesting volumes. We can trace back the raw material to its origin and use recognised certification schemes to guarantee the sustainable forestry practices and stakeholder involvement. We use the harvested trees very efficiently: the trunks (large part of the tree) are used for timber and creating construction elements, while the thinner parts go to pulpwood. Bark and branches are used for bio-energy.

Traditionally, fluff pulp has been used for products such as diapers and sanitary pads, but the potential is much greater. The growing healthcare products sector is a key opportunity, and other new applications include airlaid nonwoven products such as absorbent towels, napkins, table-tops and various types of pads to absorb fluid. But fluff pulp can be used in products as diverse as shoes and roof tiles.

Fluff pulp is a strategic product for Stora Enso. We have a 50-year track record of production and are Europe’s largest fluff pulp manufacturer. We are investing in the future of the sector, for example by expanding our production capacity and increasing focus on R&D. It’s important to find these new opportunities and understand what the market wants. One way we do this is by offering improved properties and flexibility in grades and bleaching. We provide six grades today and are one of the few producers to provide TCF (Totally Chlorine Free) fluff pulp.

Innovation is central to driving the future of fluff pulp, and this goes beyond just product innovation. It needs to happen throughout the entire value chain, from raw material to end products and logistics.

Additionally, digitalisation plays an important role in many of these areas. We already use drones to map forests and monitor mill safety, artificial intelligence to optimise pulp mill operations and tracking technology to enhance the supply chain. In the near future, many more such innovations will come in to play.

In the end, success depends a lot on collaboration. We can’t do it alone. We need to work closely and transparently with other stakeholders throughout the value chain, including consumers, universities, research institutes and other companies. Promoting consumer understanding is also essential.

And naturally, we must always consider the circular economy aspect from the start, which also requires us to be innovative with everything from business models to logistics solutions, recycling schemes and much more. Believe it or not, there are already some diaper recycling schemes in place.

By doing this we will create a thriving market for renewable products such as fluff pulp while making life more comfortable for consumers and ensuring a healthier planet.

Author

Kirsi Seppäläinen

Kirsi Seppäläinen

Kirsi Seppäläinen serves as Vice President, Strategic Projects in the Stora Enso Biomaterials division. In this role since August 2017, her main responsibilities include strategy and strategic projects as well as branding and marketing. She has worked for Stora Enso from 2011, with earlier managerial positions in communications, marketing and sustainability, and has been a member of the Biomaterials management team since the division was formed in 2012. Prior to joining Stora Enso, Kirsi held communications, marketing and sustainability positions with an international focus in companies like Metsä-Botnia, Uponor and Helvar Merca.