Trees can become batteries for electric cars - a unique pilot plant is under construction at our Sunila Mill

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Stora Enso aims to meet the demand of the global battery market by developing renewable alternatives for the automotive industry, for example. A pilot plant that will produce renewable bio-based carbon is currently being built at our Sunila Mill in Finland. The global battery market is projected to increase tenfold in five years, especially due to increasing e-mobility. Synthetic graphite, a non-renewable material commonly used in batteries, can be replaced by converting lignin separated from wood into carbon-based anode materials for lithium-ion batteries.

The pilot plant aims to respond to the growing demand in the global battery market. Stora Enso uses dry lignin to manufacture a graphite replacement material for the needs of consumer electronics and the automotive industry, among others. Stora Enso is constantly developing solutions to replace fossil-based materials with renewable materials and invests in the development of innovations made from trees. The company invests more than 140 million euros annually in research and development.

Lignin is nature's second most common macromolecule after cellulose. It is found in all plants and makes up to a third of the composition of wood. Lignin is a renewable and non-toxic raw material traceable to its area of origin. The carbon contained in lignin can replace non-renewable carbon. Lignin-based carbon can be used in batteries, typically used in consumer electronics, the automotive industry, and in large energy storage systems.

“We will continue our long-term innovation work for the comprehensive utilisation of trees and the replacement of fossil-based materials with renewable materials. The pilot plant will be built so that we can make more use of the dried lignin separated from the biomass. We aim to replace fossil-based, rare and expensive materials with renewable alternatives,” says Lauri Lehtonen Head of Innovation,Stora Enso Division Biomaterials.

Battery market on the rise

The demand for high-quality, low-priced and responsible materials is growing as is the market, which is projected to grow rapidly, especially due to increasing e-mobility, such as electric cars, buses and bicycles. As a result, there is a need for more environmentally responsible solutions in the automotive industry as well as in consumer electronics. 

The pilot plant currently under construction at Sunila Mill is an investment for the future, where fossil-based materials can be replaced by renewable materials – materials made from wood. In July 2019, Stora Enso announced that it would invest EUR 10 million in the production of bio-based carbon materials at Sunila Mill. The pilot plant construction will be completed at the beginning of 2021.

“We are developing alternatives to non-renewable and scarce raw materials. Sunila Mill is a great example of how we develop and commercialise new bio-based products. We have been investing in utilising the full potential of lignin for a long time, and now this development is culminating in Sunila's unique pilot plant,” says Kari Nikunen, Director of pilot and demo plants, Stora Enso Division Biomaterials.

Stora Enso has been producing lignin industrially at Sunila Mill since 2015. The annual production capacity is 50 000 tonnes, making Stora Enso the world's largest producer of kraft lignin.

“We believe that the use of abundantly available renewable raw material - i.e. wood - is crucial to find more sustainable and affordable alternatives to fossil or mined materials, which are limited in the world,” Lehtonen concludes.

For more information:
Ingrid Peura, SVP Communications, Stora Enso Division Biomaterials

Trees can become batteries
Lignin for energy storage
Lignin is a complex plant-derived polymer found in the cell walls of almost all dry-land plants. It binds cellulose and hemicellulose together, giving wood its stiffness and resistance to rotting. After cellulose, it is the biggest renewable source of carbon anywhere.