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On the road to the future of packaging

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On the road to the future of packaging

June 26, 2012 - 19:54

MALMO, SWEDEN, June 27, 2012 (RISI) -In such turbulent times predicting the future could be deemed risky. Who could have anticipated ten years ago the huge rise in digital media and its subsequent impact on the paper and pulp industry? According to leading pulp producer Södra Cell the next ten years won't fall short when it comes to new challenges.

At the customer conference in Malmö, Sweden, this year the company highlighted it will change with the times, together with its customers. At the aptly named ‘On the Road to 2022' conference the focus was on showing customers how Södra plans to move forward over the next ten years.

These future challenges are being built into the company's vision, with strategy firmly focused on improving existing markets, finding ways of working better with customers but identifying new areas for future growth.

In her opening speech CEO Gunilla Saltin said the company would be moving closer to its customers to make quicker decisions and respond to the rapidly changing needs of the supply chain. This will involve the company seeking new market for its products and enhance performance of existing pulps. "Paper pulp will absolutely remain our core business in 2022 and beyond."

Södra's product DuraPulp plays a large part into the company's expansion into new markets. The company anticipates that its new bio-composite made from cellulose pulp and a corn polymer (PLA) could offer various opportunities in the packaging sector. Being biodegradable and renewable, in a moulded packaging format it offers a valuable alternative to plastic applications such as ready meal trays and with flexible packaging (heat sealable crisp packets for example) it could prove equally interesting.

Specialities - the way forward

As brand owners and retailers continually strive for more sustainable packaging, DuraPulp could prove a viable environmental substitute. In sheets, its high tear and stiffness can be used for fiberboard. But for moulded packaging (DuraPulp can run on existing lines) Winner of the PPI Innovative Product of the Year award 2011, DuraPulp's properties change depending on how it is processed. Activated at 170˚C, it has a relative wet strength of 35% - eliminating the need for wet strength chemicals in the stock, as well as significant dimensional stability (0.8% CD compared to a typical value of 3.5% for most papers). Inactivated, DuraPulp can be run through the paper machine as any other pulp.

It has exceptionally high folding resistance comparable to cotton linters, and double the tear strength of a typical NBSK, as well as high dimensional stability - so, banknote papers, for example, could be an area for DuraPulp, as Kilian Keinhenz, Technical Product Manager for speciality paper at Södra Cell International explained at the conference.

DuraPulp can withstand folding at least 1,000 times before it breaks, compared to typical values of 100 for standard papers. In short, DuraPulp could prove a real alternative to a variety of plastic applications as well as enhancing the performance of existing packaging and speciality grades.

Packaging was also in the spotlight when Ulrike Edlund, Senior Lecturer in Fibre and Polymer Technology at KTH, Sweden, outlined a joint project with Södra which is seeking to capitalise on the potential of hemicelluloses. This overlooked component of the tree is often disposed of as organic waste or burned for energy recovery. But they have potential in higher value applications including films, coatings, hydrogels and hybrid thermoplastics. Her team is looking at oxygen barrier films and coatings, which could have a significant impact on green packaging alternatives for the future, offering a real alternative to oil-based barrier films. Possible future applications could be a greener version of the current drink carton. Ulrike predicted that in approximately five to ten years there could be significant changes in this market area, dependent on continual testing.

The road to 2022 for Södra looks like a journey packed with innovation and industry breakthroughs.