Södra’s work with raw forest material and their interest in STEPS

Södra’s work with forest raw materials and their interest in STEPS

2020-04-16 Mats Wallin is a Senior Specialist in Science Relations at Södra Skogsägarna. In this interview, he shares his views on plastics, a circular economy, and the challenges of working with hybrid materials. He also highlights how Södra works with sustainability, and how they use their production side streams. 

Södra Skogsägarna is an economic association owned by 52 000 members who are forest owners. Their business model is based on renewable, recyclable and biologically degradable forest raw material.

Why is Södra part of STEPS?
Our motives for being part of STEPS are three-fold. We want to learn more about the plastic value chain, we want to have access to networks and knowledge, and finally, we want to inspire and stimulate researchers to work with forest raw materials.

What are your views on plastics and plastic production today?
Different materials are suited for different needs. You can build tall houses in wood and make packaging products, tissue and textile from the cellulose. In many applications, paper and cardboard can replace plastics as a functional material. Traditional plastic will probably continue to have their uses in applications in the future, and then it is good if the plastic can be made with building blocks from a renewable source from for example agriculture or the forest. Plastic recycling is a basic condition to make the plastic value chain more circular than what it is today, but then logistics, regulations and political actions need to be in place, on both a national and a global level.

What is Södra’s role in a circular economy?
Circular economy is a strong trend at the moment in society. Paper and cardboard have during a long time been recycled at public recycling facilities. Some paper industries use, or mix, recycled fiber in their paper production. The paper value chain has already made big leaps towards making its process more circular.

The textile value chain needs to raise their game and find solutions for how to create a circular flow. Södra has a concept where collected textiles, a mix of cotton and polyester, is mixed into our processes to create dissolving pulp together with regular wood fibres. Dissolving pulp is the cellulose pulp which is used as raw material in viscose or lyocell process.

Wood is used as a building material and can have a life span of several hundred years. After that, the wood house can be reused as raw material, for example in the production of paper pulp.

We believe that our main products, timber and pulp for paper and textile, will be part of the future – maybe in a refined state. Cross laminated wood can be seen as a refined wood product, and textile pulp, partly based on recycled textiles, as a refined cellulose pulp product. In the circular world, there is no single solution, but instead there will be a network of collaborations and solutions.

How do you work with your side streams?
The largest of our side streams is bark which is produced both from the sawmills and from the pulp mills. From the sawmill we get wood chips from the production of the timber. These wood chips are sent to the pulp mills as a raw material.

Another side stream is found in the pulp mill where you separate lignin out of the wood. The lignin in the black liquor is incinerated in the recovery boiler. The boiler produces steam which is used internally in the pulp mill, and some of it is used to produce electricity which is delivered to the market.

We also deliver district heating to cities and societies close by.

A completely new initiative is that we now purify the methanol which is produced in our production processes. The methanol can then be used as a biochemical or biofuel.

Other examples of how we use side streams include: our sawdust is used to produce particleboards, but also for pellets which are burnt for energy production. Liquor sludge is granulated and used in forests as nutrition, and our turpentine is sold as a biochemical. Our tall oil is used as raw material for tall diesel and tall oil based chemicals.

Finally, we are also looking at how we can capture carbon dioxide from our factories and use it as raw materials for chemicals or biofuel.

What are some of the challenges of working with hybrid materials?
The problem with mixed hybrid materials is that they may be hard to separate into their basic components. In some cases, chemical methods can be used, in other cases mechanical methods work better. Either way, resources are spent on this process. We have to avoid designing materials which will be hard to enter into a circular system.

Another challenge is to find processes that are resource effective for the different steps needed to separate a piece of wood into building blocks and further processed into a biobased polyester – and here we hope that the researchers in STEPS can help. Resources can be raw materials, energy, and investments.

The market also needs to be prepared for slightly higher prices if the products are based on renewable materials – which do not impoverish the earth’s resources.

How do you work with sustainability?
Our sustainability work leads Södra forward and contributes to the process of transforming our society to a biobased society. Sustainability is one of the key areas in Södra’s business strategy, with six strategic pathways, and 15 shared goals. Three of these goals are prioritised and as important as the financial goals of Södra.

  • Growing forests are of major importance to mitigate climate change. The yearly forest growth for our members in year 2050 should be 20 percent higher than in 2015.
  • Södra’s total emissions of greenhouse gases should be less than zero. Södra’s production is fossil free in year 2020, and our transport is fossil free in 2030.
  • Efforts to improve health and our work environment is preventative and systematic. Södra has a vision of zero work related injuries, and the rate of injuries is decreasing.

Södra’s aim is to integrate production, environmental concerns, and social and cultural values through consideration in our forest production and actions. Forest certification is an important measure for responsible use of our members’ forests. Around two thirds of our member’s land area is certified according to FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council) and/or PEFC™ (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification).


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