Global megatrends driving demand for Biomaterials innovations

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Published 1 September 2021
An interview with Markus Mannström, Executive Vice President, Biomaterials Division. In this interview he talks about the future potential of new Biomaterials innovations.

Stora Enso has defined Biomaterials innovations as one of the key focus areas for growth. Could you please tell us more about this?

In the Biomaterials division, we are increasingly focusing our innovation efforts on our biochemical platform in lignin, sustainable packaging materials and bio-based barriers.

With lignin, we are building on our strengths in areas where we see opportunities for growth with high margins. These include carbon for energy storage, biobinders and carbon fiber. Our Sunila Mill in Finland is at the forefront of the production of kraft lignin, and thus has a key enabler role for our new products.

What are the end-use products or markets you target with Biomaterials division innovations?

Our raw materials are versatile and suitable for numerous end-use applications:

  • With Lignode, our bio-based carbons, we are creating a European supply chain for the lithium-ion battery industry which is growing fast.
  • In biobinders and adhesives, we offer our customers new market opportunities with NeoLigno, a 100% bio-based and non-toxic raw material for healthy indoor working and living.
  • Together with our value chain partners, we can provide wind power plants, for example, with NeoFiber, a sustainable and high-performing carbon fiber for crucial components.
  • We are building a pilot plant for Papira, a fiber-based foam material, as a sustainable alternative to traditional packaging and cushioning foams.
  • We are developing fully renewable and easily recyclable materials for food and beverage packaging.

What kind of growth potential do you see in the area of Biomaterials innovations?

New biomaterials are a significant innovation platform. Therefore we are working with breakthrough innovations where we see sizeable and attractive business opportunities.

The following examples demonstrate some of the future growth potential:

The global battery market is projected to increase tenfold over the coming decade, 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.

Carbon fiber demand is increasing steadily at an annual growth rate of 10%. And today, 20% of the global carbon fiber supply is used by the wind energy industry.

In the area of sustainable packaging solutions, companies are looking for bio-based materials in order to achieve their own environmental goals for recycling, reducing plastic waste and using fossil-free materials, while maintaining high-quality packaging performance.

What are the strongest drivers of demand for Biomaterials?

Global megatrends are changing society and, at the same time, our business. Consumers are demanding change because they want an eco-friendly lifestyle made easy, and our customers are looking for solutions to meet these demands.

Our business opportunities are strongly driven by the need to replace oil-based materials – such as phenol, graphite or carbon fiber – with renewable and sustainable materials early in the value chain. Circularity and lifecycle thinking are also driving this transition hand in hand with increasing consumer demand for a reduced carbon footprint and eco-friendly products.

What is the role of pulp in your business? How do you see the situation in the global pulp market?

Market pulp is a material contributor to Stora Enso’s revenues, profits and cash flow. Cost-competitive pulp is therefore key. We also see pulp as a foundation for our innovation work as we continue to build upon our strong pulp and fiber knowledge through entire value chains.

In line with Stora Enso’s strategic direction, we decided to exit the segment of dissolving pulp for viscose production in favor of pulp grades with higher margins and better market share potential.

We see excellent opportunities for our pulp due to the growing requirements for sustainable packaging and environmentally friendly products. In the area of fluff pulp, consumers are requesting hygiene and nonwoven products supporting a more eco-friendly lifestyle. With NaturaFluff Eco, we can provide maximum performance with minimum environmental impact, including a 30% lower carbon footprint.

In addition to new innovations, what are the key strategic choices for the Biomaterials division going forward?

The key strategic choices for the Biomaterials division include our focus on strengthening competitiveness and on working with a highly attractive innovation platform.

We focus on maintaining and improving the cost competitiveness and efficiency of both our joint operations in Latin America and our own mills, and on continuous pulp product and offering development in our Nordic mills.

We continue to speed up commercialisation of our innovation portfolio, focusing on the biochemical platform in lignin, high-growth end-product markets, and an uncontested sustainability position.

Markus Mannström

Marcus Mannström

Executive Vice President, Biomaterials Division