Pulp & Paper

I have more than eight years experience writing about the Pulp & Paper sector for the industry-leading publisher RISI (part of United Business Media), including three years as Editor of Pulp & Paper International (PPI) magazine and nearly two years as Executive Editor of its sister title, Tissue World.

As Editor of PPI (2005-2008), the leading trade publication in the industry, I was responsible for all content that appeared in the magazine – this included writing feature articles and opinion columns, managing contributions from our Features Editor (based in Shanghai, China) and other freelance contributors, sourcing photographs and other images and liaising closely with our sales and production departments to ensure that the magazine appeared on time and with the high-quality that our readership expected. My responsibilities also extended to the publisher’s website – www.risiinfo.com – where I managed a daily blog service. I also spoke at and chaired sessions at a number of pulp and paper industry conferences and seminars (e.g. European Paper Week, Tissue World China). Since going freelance, RISI has invited me to select the external speakers for its European Pulp & Paper Outlook Conference 2009 in Berlin, an event I also co-chaired.

I continue to write for RISI on a freelance basis and am a Contributing Editor of PPI magazine.

Below is a small selection of articles I have written for readers from the pulp and paper industry.

CEO Interview


Holmen Group, ranked 38th in last year’s PPI Top 100, produces 2.4 million tonnes/yr of newsprint, magazine paper and packaging board through its Holmen Paper and Iggesund Paperboard divisions. The company posted net turnover of SEK 15,653 million ($2,135 million) in 2004 and an operating profit of SEK 1,860 million. An integrated forest industry group, Holmen also produces both pulp for its own mills and sawn timber, as well as owning forest and electric power assets. Magnus Hall succeeded Göran Lundin as CEO of Holmen Group on April 1, 2004, stepping up from the post of president of Holmen Paper. After one year at the helm, he talks about the group’s position and strategy…

PPI: How do you see the markets at the moment for your core products? How do you think they will develop over the next months both in terms of demand and prices?

Hall: There was definitely a rebound in demand for printing paper in Europe in 2004. We expect that to continue, but to a lesser extent. We expect growth to be about 1.5-2% this year in newsprint and a little bit more for magazines: 2.5-3%.

We have fought hard for a considerable newsprint price increase that unfortunately hasn’t really gone through. Newsprint was at a historically very low price last year.

We also faced significant cost increases in Sweden, mainly energy and electricity costs. The price increases we have now are just enough to cover these cost increases, nothing more. It’s a disappointing situation.

There is a clear need for another price increase and there should be an opportunity to increase prices in 2006.

Growth in Europe in virgin fiber-based paperboard is stable. It was 2% for the whole of Europe in 2004 and we expect about the same in 2005. The majority of growth in 2004 came from eastern Europe and we expect demand growth to be mainly driven by eastern Europe again this year. Within Holmen we don’t split Europe into east and west, the eastern European countries are also home markets. We might see some small, incremental price increases for paperboard, but market development is stable.

PPI: You have recently made further investments to improve quality. Do you think these will feed through to increased profitability, higher prices for products and a bigger market share, or is it the case today that you have to run in order to stand still?

Hall: Our customers demand continuous improvement both in products and services. We have to satisfy them. We have to meet their demands and be ahead of our competitors in terms of quality to keep our supplier position.

The new Holmen Paper investments in Sweden are about keeping up with quality demands more than increasing output, except for Hallsta, which was about quality and production. Building an MF magazine paper machine was a risk but we appear to have been proven right: market growth has been good, and it looks like it will have the biggest growth within publication papers again in 2005.

PPI: How is work on the new machine at Holmen Paper Madrid (HPM) progressing?

Hall: It is progressing very well. It is a new situation for us: we have only ever done a project of this kind in Sweden before. We have put together a project team from across the Holmen Group, including people from Iggesund Paperboard.

We are very positively surprised about how smoothly things are going. Some things in Spain are done differently. In Sweden, every aspect of the project is decided before groundbreaking, In Spain, you have to take more decisions as the project goes along. For instance, the authorities do not give permission to do certain things until after the project is underway. But this has never proven to be a problem in any aspect of the project. Although it is new to us, we are happy running it in the Spanish way.

PPI: After PM 62 starts up early next year, do you expect HPM to be a lower cost mill than your other (newsprint) operations? If so, how much lower cost?

Hall: It will be more or less the same: you have to pay for skilled labor wherever you are in the EU. Where we can lower costs is in terms of distribution costs. We would be a local supplier for our target markets of southern France, northern Italy, Spain and Portugal.
What we’re really pleased about is the fact that Madrid will produce around 500,000 tonnes/yr with only 340 employees, an output per man of 1,400 tonnes. It will be a state-of-the-art mill in terms of productivity.

PPI: Moving on to raw materials, what steps are you taking to secure recovered paper supplies for HPM?

Hall: We have our own wastepaper collection company together with SAICA — they use the brown streams, we use the white streams.

We intend to grow our recovered paper collection capabilities in order to keep costs down and secure supply. In the beginning we will have to import recovered paper, but within five years almost all of the fiber for HPM will come from within Spain, Portugal and southern France.

PPI: How has January’s storm affected Holmen and the Swedish wood market and what effects will it have going forward?

Hall: Pricewise, wood is going down considerably in the south. But you have to balance the low cost in the south with the cost of transporting the wood to mid- and northern Sweden. Transport costs impose a limit on how far and how much you can move. We have moved harvesting teams down to the south and we are working hard to get the wood out.

However, there is now a lack of transportation capacity. You can get wood out of the forest but you can’t move it from the roadside because there are not enough trucks.

The price drop in the south could be a short-lived pleasure — prices could rise again in the mid-term. Also, we are to some extent dependent on fresh fiber for mechanical pulping. What the sum of the whole game will be, we have no idea.

PPI: In Holmen’s annual report you talk about concentrating more on products with relatively low electricity costs. To which particular products or families of products are you referring?

Hall: We don’t know what exactly we will do. One way to use less electricity is of course to use more recovered fiber. For supercalendered and lightweight coated papers too, the electricity cost is a smaller part of the total cost price for these grades. What we will do to develop in this direction is for future decisions. Producing standard newsprint from woodfiber alone is not sustainable. In Sweden there has been a 50% net increase in the cost of electricity in the last five years. Electricity was not an issue 5-10 years ago: today it is an issue.

We will increase electricity production if we get the chance, however electricity-generating equipment has increased in price by the same factor as electricity. Therefore it would be expensive to install to and start producing more power ourselves.

PPI: What steps should the politicians take to find stable, long-term solutions to Sweden’s power supply problems?

Hall: The discussion about nuclear plants is absurd. We want Sweden to keep them for as long as they can be technically and safely operated. Electricity prices are very high: If Sweden goes from being a net exporter to an importer of electricity, the prices will get even higher. Most politicians realize the situation, but nuclear power is a hot political issue and small parties can affect the outcome of the debate.

PPI: Twice as many Holmen Group employees are scheduled to retire from 2009-2015 as between 2000 and 2005. What steps are you taking to ensure recruitment of sufficient numbers of new employees?

Hall: We are more actively marketing to young people both by ourselves and together with the whole industry. We need to become an attractive employer (for young people).

If we plan ahead and plan the competencies we need in the longer term we can actually become more efficient (when the new wave of employees joins). We need to ask what are the new competencies we need to run our industry in a new way?

PPI: Rupert Murdoch recently spoke about the need for publishers to develop their online business, pointing to the growing impact of online advertising on the bottom line of newspaper and magazine publishers, particularly for classifieds. Do you worry about such trends? How do you see the long-term future for newspapers and magazines?

Hall: I’m an optimist about the development of the business in general. It’s true that the Internet is better for some things such as search, but there is still a future for the printed product. If you interact with readers through the web you can actually strengthen the printed product. For instance, Aftonbladet in Sweden (the country’s biggest-selling daily newspaper) has invested a lot in a very good website and the newspaper has benefited too. I don’t see one medium coming in and taking over from the other.

It might be true that there is some kind of structural change, particularly when you look at newsprint demand in North America, but at the same time unaddressed direct mail is a growing market. As long as publishers such as News International continue to build new printing plants we are optimistic. For us the main interest lies in the possibility of new developments in the printed product.

PPI: Is there much interaction in terms of product development between Holmen Paper and Iggesund Paperboard?

Hall: There is some interaction on the R&D side. Also for the conversion of PM 61 to film coated offset (FCO) at Madrid, Iggesund’s coating knowledge has been drawn on a lot. Generally, however, the two business areas are pretty standalone.

PPI: Is the fact that Holmen does not have any board converting facilities of its own an advantage or a disadvantage?

Hall: You see people who convert the board they make and people who don’t: Some are successful (converters); some are not. In order to be successful you have to sell a large percentage of your own output to your own converting units. I can’t see that happening with Iggesund. We want to sell to as many converters as possible. Having our own converting operation is not an option — we are not even discussing it.

PPI: Aside from Spain and other parts of southern Europe, which do you see as your growth markets? Asia?

Hall: Yes, we already have sales companies for Iggesund in Singapore and Hong Kong — mainly selling solid bleached board. We intend to use the same specialization strategy as in Europe.

As for a manufacturing presence in Asia, somewhere in the future we will do that. It is more likely that we would do so by acquiring a mill. It would have to be the right time, the right object. I see that line quite far ahead of us.

PPI: Do you expect to see capacity additions in Russia and Eastern Europe?

Hall: Of course Russian fiber resources are enormous so growth in the pulp and paper sector will come sooner or later. The question is when?

Eastern European consumption is not that high and the availability of waste paper is not high yet (the two go together), but it might come. And there are a lot of people in [the eastern European countries].

PPI: What has been the biggest challenge in your first twelve months as CEO?

Hall: Getting a grip on the whole group: Understanding the business of Iggesund Paperboard, IggesundTimber, Forest and Power. I believe I have a good grip now. The next step is to implement changes: We have created an agenda for ourselves in terms of strategic planning. Iggesund is more complicated than Holmen Paper because so much of its business is based around quality and reputation. We have to be more careful when doing anything with Iggesund.

(Originally published in PPI magazine, June 2005).

Mill Profile

The Croatian mill continues to improve its offering

FOUNDED IN 1884, the Belišce mill in Slavonia, eastern Croatia, has the put the difficult times of the early 1990s well and truly behind it. Today, Belišce produces 210,000 tonnes/yr of containerboard on two units, plus 35,000 tonnes/yr of packaging products. The 115,000 tonne/yr PM 2 (built in 1974) makes testliner (1-4), SC fluting, schrenz and wellenstoff, while its smaller, newer partner, PM 3 (installed in 1983), churns out up to 95,000 tonnes/yr of the latter three grades. Incidentally, PM 1, which started up in 1961, was shutdown in 1994 and later sold to India.

An integrated mill, Belišce has its own woodyard, two semi-chemical (sulphite) pulp mills for internal use, as well as chemicals, power and water treatment plants (the latter also treats municipal wastewater).

The road to recovery from the dark days of the Balkans Conflict (during which the paper plant itself came under attack on occasion) has been slow but steady. In 1998, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), took a 20% stake in the mill, loaning Beliš?e $41 million to enable a revamp of the two remaining paper machines. “It makes more sense to modernize and rehabilitate plants that have been damaged during the war, rather than constructing new ones,” the IFC’s investment officer, Ole Sand, told PPI at the time.

The IFC’s money was invested in a number of improvements to the two machines: PM 2 was given a new shoe press and size presses for starch application were installed on both units to enable them to produce wellenstoff; a starch kitchen was also added for the same purpose. The stock preparation line was rebuilt, both dryer hoods were replaced and their ventilation systems were upgraded. Some other sections were also rebuilt, such as the top and bottom layer headbox of PM 2 and waste handling of PM2 and PM 3. New drives for shoe press and size press were added to the electrical drive section. Automation was also upgraded – a new distributed control system (DCS) for stock preparation, PM 2 and part of PM 3, and a new quality control system (QCS) for PM 3. The modifications improved quality and also boosted output by a combined 45,000 tonnes/yr.

More steps to better paper

Since 1998, upgrades have been “step-by-step,” notes Belišce’s head of measuring and control engineering, Ivan Ratkovcic. Several improvements were made in 2006 and 2007, at a total cost of EUR 4 million. “We tried to do various projects around the same time to increase quality and output,” he explains. Steam and condensate systems from Kadant Johnson were added to PM 2 and PM 3, while the Finnish company, EVG, and Slovenia’s Tip95 worked together to improve web stabilization in the dryer section. Belišce also invested in a Bellmer winder on PM 2, while new ventilation systems were installed in the PM 3 machine hall.

Last but not least, ABB was contracted to supply a package of improvements, comprising a new distributed control system (DCS) for PM 3, an upgrade of the scanning platform on PM 2 from Measurement Platform 2 to SmartPlatform, as well as Air-Water xP Actuators on both machines to improve the moisture profile.

Ratkovcic explains that Belišce had some doubts about the ABB water spray offering until a team from the mill paid a reference visit to a mill in France and saw the technology in action. “They had a good experience and we saw it working, we saw the 2-sigma reduction. The reference visit really made up our minds,” he recalls.

The Air-Water xP Actuators were installed by a team from ABB Dundalk in Ireland and commissioned by a team from ABB Sesto San Giovanni in Italy in November 2006. There are 60 actuators on PM 3 and 69 on PM 2. In each case they are 75 mm apart. The spacing was chosen based on process model estimates for the performance of actuators spaced at 75 mm and 100 mm respectively.

In trial runs with the new technology, ABB met its guaranteed performance values. Installation of the Air-Water xP Actuators has seen the number of customer complaints about CD moisture profile fall to zero.

“Everything fell into place very quickly,” says Ratkovcic. “The performance improvement was almost immediately visible. It was very easy, very quick – I was surprised by that,” he adds.

New stakeholders, future plans

Belišce’s clients are mainly located in central and eastern Europe (Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Germany, Serbia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece etc), “It depends on the market situation,” notes Ratkovcic.

In May 2008, Duropack acquired a 24.7% stake in the company (including the IFC’s 20% stake). The Austrian-based packaging firm, part of Constantia Group, sees a good fit between Belišce’s operations and its own, and expects significant synergy effects resulting from this cooperation.

In the meantime, for the Croatian mill the improvement drive goes on. In May 2009, one of Belišce’s two steam boilers was reconstructed to improve energy efficiency. Plans are also in place to upgrade to AC drives on PM 2, increasing its speed. However, this work has been postponed because of the downturn.

BOX: Belišce Group

Belišce mill (and village) were both founded in the late nineteenth century by Hungarian businessman, S.H. Gutmann. Prior to World War II, his eponymous company was one of the largest producers of oak logs in Europe, before moving into paper production in the 1960s.

Since 1991, the Belišce Group has expanded its operations beyond Croatia’s borders and today, in addition to 35,000 tonnes/yr of corrugating capacity at the Belišce mill, it has one converting company in Slovenia (Valkarton – 50,000 tonnes/yr), one in the Macedonian capital, Skopje (Komuna – 18,000 tonnes/yr), as well as Bilokalnik in the Croatian town of Koprivnica (18,000 tonnes/yr).

The group also owns Unijapapir, the Zagreb-based waste paper collection company, and its Serbian equivalent, Inos Papir Servis in Belgrade. The Belišce Group portfolio is completed by a mechanical and chemical wood processing plant, an electrical equipment and parts plant, and maintenance, power plant and transport departments.


(Originally published in PPI magazine, November 2009).



By Justin Toland, Contributing Editor, Pulp & Paper International

Reading Mark Rushton’s excellent recent series of articles on the threat posed by Information Communication Technology (ICT) to the industry (“ICT – Killing off paper with a greener image”) , one comment in particular – from Dr Peter Arnfalk, associate professor at Lund University in Sweden – jumped out at me: “ICT communicates the [environmentally-friendly] message at every opportunity. The paper industry needs to do the same; identify the areas where it could be the most environmentally effective alternative to ICT and communicate the message to the end user.”

Nowhere is it more important to get this message across than in the developing markets of Asia. It is countries such as India, and especially China, where not only are production and consumption of pulp and paper increasingly rapidly, but where consumer awareness of environmental issues is growing just as fast. As evidence of this, Chinese consumers ranked third of 17 countries on National Geographic’s 2009 Greendex survey of sustainable consumption (and Indian consumers ranked first).

China’s CSR boom
One clear example of increasing awareness of and action on environmental issues in China is the massive upsurge in the number of companies producing corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. Although the country’s first CSR report was published in 2001, it is only in the last three years that corporate social responsibility reporting has really taken off, as data compiled by the China WTO Tribune show. Last year more than 600 CSR reports were published in China, up from less than 200 a year earlier and fewer than 50 in 2006.

Importantly pulp, paper and related industries (e.g. Tetra Pak China) have been a part of this growth, Indeed, in June APP China was presented with the “2010 Best Social Responsibility Corporate Award” by the China Foreign Investment Enterprise Association, China Charity Federation and China Enterprise News.

The CSR boom is part of a wider upsurge in interest in sustainable development in China. According to the latest Fortune/AccountAbility Managerial Survey on CSR, the corporate responsibility agenda in China is increasingly consumer-driven and, it says, “As Chinese consumers grow more savvy, they will be less convinced by greenwash or marketing campaigns without third party assurance or consumer-facing labels.” This perhaps explains why growth in FSC-certified supply chains is faster in China than anywhere else.

And, as Annie Zhu reported from the 2009 Paper Industry Sustainability Forum in Jiangsu Province, China is planning to start its own forestry certification scheme this year, based on FSC and PEFC standards.

Other important steps toward sustainable development highlighted at the Jiangsu forum include tighter discharge standards for water pollutants and the closure of outdated, inefficient and polluting mills.

This event was just one of a number in recent times that have allowed the industry to communicate its green credentials to Chinese audiences. For instance, in late 2008, the China National Household Paper Industry Association launched the country’s first Paper Diaper Environment and Sustainability Report at an event in Shanghai, while this May, Metso Paper held a sustainable development summit supported by the China Paper Industry Chamber of Commerce at the Shanghai World EXPO.

These and other efforts are a crucial part of convincing consumers in the most important markets of tomorrow that paper is part of a green future, not a relic of a polluting past.

(Originally published by RISI (www.risiinfo.com), July 2010).

Technology Update


By Justin Toland, Contributing Editor??, PPI

Big is beautiful in our industry. The 11 m wide PM, the 1 million tonne/yr bleached eucalyptus kraft pulp mill, the 5,000 tonne/day dry solids recovery boiler: these are the benchmarks and the levels to which it seems all aspire.

Yet, sometimes in the rush to scale-up processes, issues affecting existing producers are forgotten – the small mill is left to its own devices or forced out of business. A small, startup company, BioRegional MiniMills (UK) Ltd, is looking to redress the balance and give small (10,000-50,000 tonne/yr), nonwood pulp producers a means of treating their effluent. “No technology is available that can treat black liquor on a small-scale,” explains technical director, MiniMills, Philip Hartwell. “If you want a black liquor treatment plant for a 30,000 tonne/yr straw pulp mill you can’t get one.”

“The main problem with cereal straws is silica,” explains the inventor of the MiniMills technology, Trevor Dean. “[Wheat] straw is 3-5% silica; rice straw is 12% – if you evaporate too much you get glass build up on the inside of the evaporator, which reduces thermal efficiency,” points out Hartwell.

“The idea of the MiniMill really came from China,” recalls Dean. In 1993, there were some 10,000 small mills in the country, mostly using rice straw as a raw material. With no means of treating their black liquor, such plants were forced to discharge untreated effluent onto the land or into rivers. “Something like 25% of all water pollution in China was caused by black liquor from straw pulp mills,” notes Hartwell.

Even though the Chinese authorities have closed many of these small mills in recent years (either temporarily or permanently), many still remain. And closing the mills (rather than treating the effluent) creates another pollution hazard: Farmers now burn their waste straw, causing smog.

This lack of a treatment solution led Dean, who has 40 years of international experience in pulping of nonwood fibers, paper manufacturing and pollution control, to begin developing a small-scale chemical recovery process that burns black liquor cleanly to produce heat and energy and directly recover the pulping chemical.

Enter BioRegional
In the 1990s, Dean crossed paths with executive director and co-founder of BioRegional Development Group, Sue Riddlestone. The environmental charity was already involved with schemes to create a sustainable local paper cycle through recycling. But since paper can only be recycled a limited number of times, BioRegional envisaged a future where the recovered fibers would be supplemented with around 50% of locally produced virgin pulp made from local materials such as straw, hemp or coppice wood. The paper produced would then be brought back and recycled again.

As a result, in 1997, BioRegional MiniMills was established to develop and apply Dean’s small-scale, clean technology to pulp straw and recover energy and pulping chemicals from the effluent.

Over the next decade, with the backing of WWF International, the UK government’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and UK agencies such as DEFRA and the Home Grown Cereals Association, as well as paper producers James Cropper, Tullis Russell, Curtis Fine Papers, and Inveresk (whose former CEO, Stefan Kay, is now Chairman of BioRegional MiniMills), the new company designed a complete pulp mill process line for nonwood fibers, with technology that can be readily adapted to wood fiber.

The closed loop process would both minimize discharges to land, air and water while using 50% less energy than a traditional wood pulp mill and 90% less energy than a standard nonwood fiber facility. Water use would be reduced by some 80%, while BioRegional calculates that pulping straw in a 10,000 tonne/yr MiniMill saves 48,000 tonnes/yr CO2 when compared with the current situation in China where pulp is imported and straw burned.

Another advantage, says Riddlestone, would be the reduced ecological footprint: Recycling your paper to the paper mill and buying back again reduces your eco footprint by 93%. Plug a MiniMill into that loop and you further improve the efficiency.

Ahsltrom pilot
After successfully demonstrating the technical and economic feasibility of the process at lab-scale, construction of the first pilot scale MiniMill began in October 2007. The pilot mill is located at Ahlstrom Chirnside’s Radcliffe Pulp Processing Plant in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, UK. Radcliffe produces some 10,000 tonnes/yr of specialty pulp from abaca fiber for use by Ahlstrom Chirnside’s specialty paper mill in Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland (manufacturers of filter paper – e.g. for tea bags – and hospital disposable products).

Ahlstrom Chirnside invited BioRegional MiniMills to set up at its pulp plant, as it had no means of treating its black liquor. “Radcliffe recycles black liquor to the land – it does have some nutritional value, but everyone recognises it’s not a long-term solution,” explains Hartwell.

The MiniMill, which started up at the beginning of 2008, is using 10% of Radcliffe’s black liquor in its trials. “We have 11 points to measure temperature and pressure around the whole system, explains MiniMills plant operator Sergio Blanco-Roseti. “The GC also measures oxygen at several points, as well as chemicals such as acetone and methane.”

“So far the practical results have been extremely close to the theory, predicting temperatures to within a couple of percent,” says Hartwell. “In the lab we have had some very high recovery rates with straw pulp. In principle, I don’t see why we can’t have high recovery rates of sodium hydroxide, ” he adds. Dependent on the calorific value of the black liquor it’s also possible to run the plant so it’s nearly energy neutral, comments Hartwell.

Rossendale Process Systems constructed the pilot plant, with Wellmann supplying the evaporator. According to Hartwell, the commercial-scale plant, “Might end up being double the footprint [of the pilot]… We’ve tried to make it as modular as possible.”

Working at this small scale is a big change for Hartwell, who previously project managed the startup of the 1,000 tonne/day Shotton II DIP line in 1997. “It’s a different scale, but this is an enjoyable challenge,” he says.

The BioRegional MiniMill is designed to: 1. Enable any country to exploit local fiber resources economically; 2. Realize the potential of nonwood fiber sources – ideal in countries with a limited forest resource, reducing pressure on global forests; 3. Process hemp, flax, wheat or rice straw and other crop fibers, and be adapted for wood and recovered fiber; 4. Introduce new, clean technology for raw material preparation, pulping, bleaching and chemical recovery; 5. Save carbon emissions by cutting energy used in transport and recovering energy from the effluent for reuse in the pulping.

The process in a nutshell:

Take weak black liquor and concentrate it in an energy efficient way?-Use a gasification reaction to break it down?-Recover pulping chemicals from ash and off gas for reuse in process (single stage process)-Recycle the used bed material (with 10% bleed out).

Target customers:

  • Pulp mills that do not have any way of dealing with black liquor (14 million tonnes/yr of capacity)
  • Paper manufacturers who buy lots of pulp and people with lots of agricultural residues (e.g. farmers)
  • Woodpulp mills for incremental capacity
  • Licensing or partnering with equipment manufacturers.

The business plan
Riddlestone explains that while the initial strategy was to persuade investors in China and India to set up MiniMills, BioRegional is now looking closer to home. “The focus has turned to developing the technology for Western applications and then, once it is proven, selling into China,” explains Hartwell.

This is a realistic aim, believes Riddlestone: “There is 4 million tonnes/yr of surplus straw in the UK [out of 12 million produced].” With the rising price of oil, energy and raw materials, and the price of straw only around EUR 25-30/tonne ($49-59), she believes that, “Small-scale locally produced fiber could be very beneficial.” Wheat straw offers a good alternative to hardwood for printing/writing papers: “It gives you a good, closed sheet,” notes Riddlestone.

BioRegional is also preparing to do trials with Scottish wood this fall. “We hope by the winter we’ll know the results for black liquor for the sulfite and sulfate pulping processes,” says Riddlestone.

“We’re mainly into licensing but we could be into manufacturing,” suggests the executive director. One interesting avenue the company is exploring is the possibility of ‘bolting on’ a MiniMill to an existing wood pulp mill to increase the capacity of the recovery boiler. If this proves feasible, a long-standing obstacle to incremental capacity increase in the pulp sector could finally be overcome. At present, the only way to overcome a bottleneck at the boiler is to invest in a new one, which will of course, enable a large increase in capacity, but which doesn’t come cheap. BioRegional believes its technology may allow an increase of say 10% in recovery boiler capacity at a relatively low cost.

About BioRegional

BioRegional Development Group is an entrepreneurial, independent environmental organization. The registered charity aims to develop award-winning, commercially viable products and services that meet more of people’s everyday needs from local renewable and waste resources.

The BioRegional approach is based on:? Local resource availability; Closing the loop: Recycling and reclaiming materials or using waste heat from industry; Appropriate scale technology; Network production: producing locally with centralized coordination and marketing; Fair trade; and One Planet Living: reducing our ecological footprint to live with a fair share of the Earth’s resources.

BioRegional has established programs dedicated to demonstrating that it is possible to significantly reduce people’s ecological footprint in areas such as wood products, paper, textiles, food, transport and housing to a sustainable level and maintain a high quality of life. BioRegional MiniMills Ltd is part of the group’s Fibers Program.

(Originally published in PPI magazine, September 2008).