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Not just grasping at straws

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Not just grasping at straws

October 15, 2012 - 16:00

BRUSSELS, Oct. 16, 2012 (RISI) -Taiwan-based YFY (Yuen Foong Yu) has developed what it claims is a revolutionary straw pulp technology - NPulp - and has started commercial production at the company's mill in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province, China.

YFY calls it bio-pulping; that is, a "proprietary enzymatic production" process that eliminates the use of "harsh chemicals".

NPulp is the result of 10 years of work by YFY to explore alternative materials and processes for producing pulp and paper. According to the company, "The decade of research, development, operational planning and infrastructure design is resulting in a revolution in both paper and the papermaking process."

NPulp is produced with a mix of conventional and specially designed equipment

More than 65% of the investment in the NPulp plant is in existing commercial equipment used for traditional pulping processes. The remaining 35% of the investment is exclusive to YFY, designed in-house by the company's research and development teams. The company belives that mills located near natural resources such as straw will have good opportunities to retrofit.

YFY plans to take advantage of the more than 600 million tonnes/yr of agricultural straw biomass available in China. With a yield of more than 55%, this is the equivalent of about 345 million tonnes/yr of pulp. The remaining 45% can be converted into biofuels and fertilizers. Most straw residuals are now burned in the field. A spokesman for YFY said the mill is being converted to use biofuels that can be created from waste products and the fertilizers will go back to local farmers who grow the straw. The objective is a net zero CO2production facility.

The Jiangsu mill produces high-performance linerboard with a basis weight of 230 g/m2, which has the same properties as 250-g/m2sheet. Besides the high-performance sheet, YFY produces conventional kraft linerboard in a basis weight range of 150-300 g/m2. There is also a tissue mill on site.

Currently, all pulp for the liner and tissue mills is purchased. Initially, the NPulp is being used to make molded trays (100% NPulp) at another producer's site. In the future, the NPulp will be used in kraft liner and medium, replacing recovered paper pulp at the Jiangsu mill. Other uses, such as tissue, are being tested but there are no current plans to use the NPulp for these products.

NPulp production capacity is 200 tonnes/day but YFY plans to increase that to 2,000 tonnes/day by mid-2013. Straw is harvested throughout the year and YFY says it can be stored as long as one year prior to pulping.

YFY plans to ramp up NPulp production to 2,000 tonnes/day in 2013

"This is an unprecedented opportunity to show green chemistry in action in ways that benefit all stakeholders," says Ronald Allen, president of Mobius105, the exclusive distributor of NPulp. "The burning of straw creates two problems: massive amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions polluting the air and the destruction of a crop that would provide potential incremental revenue to the farmers. YFY created a system to collect and purchase the excess straw from farmers in China that discourages burning, protects the environment, brings economic development to rural communities and provides our customers with the sustainable materials they need."

Allen is optimistic about NPulp's commercial and environmental potential and predicts the model will be replicated globally. He also claims the paper produced from straw pulp is "as good as or better" than paper made with a recycled fiber furnish.