BRUSSELS, Dec 1, 2014 (PPI Magazine) - It has taken a decade of research and development. But an innovative new material from Södra has made the journey from an idea in the lab to a customised solution for a variety of applications, supported by two partners in specialist niche P&B markets. Södra hopes its new bio-composite will have a significant impact on the market, not least as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic.
As many ideas do, it all began with something completely different. A bright PHD student was looking for a job and found himself in the offices of a well-respected Swedish design agency where he was thrown the challenge of making a fully functional chair from a paper egg carton. And the rest, as they say, is history.
That history involved years of painstaking research and development at market pulp producer Södra, together with Swedish research institute, Innventia, the Swedish designer ClaessonKoivistoRune (CKR) and more recently, speciality papermaker and advanced materials group, James Cropper plc based in the UK and specialist converter, Swt Paper based in Sweden. The engagement of these two companies formed part of Södra's aim to commercialize the product through selective and strategic partnerships though the supply chain.
PPI has been monitoring the progress of this new bio-composite from Södra since its launch in the form of a prototype children's chair in 2009. In 2012 PPI visited specialist paper and advanced materials group James Cropper (see PPI February 2013, p. 18). At that time, Cropper had just been invited on board to trial DuraPulp in its mill in Burneside in the English Lake District. After two years of team building, knowledge sharing and transfer, trials, testing and further development later, Cropper is also convinced that DuraPulp has significant potential both for its own markets and others yet to be explored.
(Left) Depending on the heat and pressure applied, DuraPulp can take on a strength and rigidity more akin to plastics while retainingall the tactile and aesthetic qualities of paper. (Right) The bio composite can be moulded but also embossed and printed with special effects to enhance and support branding and offer customers a distinctive edge in the market.
Partnership in action
What Jacqueline Redman, strategic marketing and innovation manager at Cropper, calls ‘deeper discussions' began last February. The two partners drew up a framework agreement based on bringing together the respective core competences of James Cropper and Södra: Cropper's expertise in speciality and premium niche paper and packaging markets and Södra's expertise in DuraPulp.
James Cropper will produce tailor-made DuraPulp solutions at its Burnside mill under licence from Södra, offering customized colored products made from DuraPulp supplied by Södra. Cropper will operate in its core global premium paper sector, including luxury packaging. Södra continues to review its commercial strategy for the more commodity applications, but in such a way that the overall positioning and value of DuraPulp is maximized. DuraPulp is a registered trademark and both the process and product are patent pending.
"A spirit of common sense and the sharing of learning have to prevail here," remarks Redman. "It is of interest to both Cropper and Södra that DuraPulp is commercialized successfully and all parties work together to ensure effective and efficient market development. Patrick Willink (Cropper) and Nigel Holland (Södra) have worked together on the pulp business for many years and DuraPulp is a good example of what can come out of sound working relationships. The right collaboration in business today is essential to ongoing innovation and future growth. "
Urban Blomster, responsible for sales of DuraPulp at Södra, nods in enthusiastic agreement: "What's important here is the spirit of cooperation. Get that right and anything is possible."
(Left) DuraPulp can be dyed to any color and moulded to almost any shape offering endless possibilities for bespoke solutions. (Right) DuraPulp: The new bio-composite from Sodra is a mix of cellulose and a corn polymer, renewable, biodegradable and recyclable but extremely strong and durable.
For Cropper, DuraPulp could fit in nicely with its strategy to grow in premium niche markets. "We have been looking to grow our market presence through strong innovation that offers customers solutions that will solve their problems and also, fits the megatrends that will determine future strategy. The collaboration with Södra represents exactly the type of company and culture that we want to partner. It is important that any joint development has the pace and energy to develop sustainable sales in the short to medium term," says Redman. "Södra offers Cropper a significant opportunity here and we respect the investment and vision that they have."
Cropper has a reputation for innovation and expertise in high-end specialities, a market in which it sees potential for DuraPulp. One of the company's strengths is texture and aesthetics for premium packaging. "This fits very well for Cropper," Redman remarks. "Södra is a big company but it has maintained important elements of integrity. DuraPulp encapsulates the environmental and innovative solutions we are both looking to achieve in the future."
"We recognize that companies are constantly reviewing their packaging," Blomster explains, "and DuraPulp gives this collaboration with Cropper the opportunity to show them something they've never seen before, to take paper where it can never normally go. The value of visiting customers together to learn about their future needs and expectations cannot be overestimated. These conversations are extremely important to shaping plans."
More solution than product
Both Blomster and Redman agree that this is more a solution rather than a product because it will be customized according to individual needs and the focus is on high flexibility and tailor-made solutions.
Another potential application for DuraPulp is wet-moulded packaging, a completely new area for Södra as it is a sector currently using recycled fiber. "We can offer possibilities here against plastics", remarks Blomster. "The timing is good. Legislation is moving away from landfill, discouraging the dumping of plastics, and looking to promote sustainability which is increasingly important."
Swt paper joins the project
With a second partner, Swt Paper in Sweden, Södra is installing a pilot wet-moulding machine in Varberg, close to the Värö mill where Södra produces DuraPulp. Swt Paper is an entrepreneurial company with strong competence in converting processes in new fiber-based materials. Together the two companies will investigate the possibilities for DuraPulp in wet moulding and produce prototypes, demonstrators and new products.
"The first time Södra contacted us and asked if we were interested in a cooperation to develop a wet moulding process for DuraPulp we actually said no because we felt it was too far away from our core business," recalls Mathias Frenzel, head of business development and technology and owner of Swt Paper.
"However, we agreed to conduct a pre-study where we investigated the commercial potential and suitable production process for DuraPulp from a small converter's perspective. We discovered there is definitely a market potential but not enough was known about production costs and quality specifications to start commercial production or invest in a commercial process immediately. So we suggested a co-operation between Swt Development and Södra."
Swt Development is a sister company to Swt Paper where the focus is on practical development in lab and pilot scale from a small converter's perspective. Swt had seen that many large companies struggle with the commercialization of new products because they are not used to pilot- or small-scale production setups.
Frenzel explains, "Most customers want to see prototypes and understand the cost structure on a small scale, but they also want to understand the potential when you scale up. It is also very important to have an end customer in the project with experience in a new product, material and process development.
"DuraPulp is attractive because it expands the market for paper products and it is a sustainable alternative to many different materials but also a completely unique material. I hope DuraPulp will be the natural choice of material for product developers and brand owners in the future."
DuraPulp can be used in two different ways depending on how it is processed. Before activation, a DuraPulp sheet behaves much like paper but with the added advantages of higher tear and folding endurance. Once activated by hot pressing, however, the composite changes significantly, with stiffness properties comparable to plastic. Its bending stiffness is also higher than regular paper and it is air-permeable. This makes its potential for a wealth of applications very exciting. And in the speciality premium paper market, Cropper's expertise will ensure that customised solutions can be made to virtually any colour in the spectrum.
Because it is a biopolymer based on starch and the ingredients to make it come from renewable, non-fossil based sources, DuraPulp's environmental credentials are second to none: It is carbon-neutral, bio-degradable, compostable and truly sustainable - it takes around 100 days to degrade 90% of the material.
As part of the next stage of the journey for DuraPulp on the road to market, Södra and Cropper will be presenting the material this year and next at the main luxury packaging shows in Europe and beyond. For LuxePack (Monaco, late October) Redman says they are planning to introduce the material to the market and show something beautiful from DuraPulp which will represent its possibilities.
It will hopefully also entice a few customers to try the new bio-composite for themselves, so watch this space.
If you would like to find out more about DuraPulp, follow its progress via www.durapulp.com.
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