In retrospect, there is one word that comes to mind when I think of the past sixteen months: Resilience – which is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficult conditions.
Over this past year, we went through major changes in our lifestyles, and our actions impacted supply chains and organizations globally – showing once again that we are living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.
It was during this time of great uncertainty, and after seeing the high demand for products such as hand sanitizer and increased raw materials costs, that one paper company in Brazil partnered with a research institute and a cosmetics manufacturer to successfully develop a new area of business.
Finding New Business Opportunities During VUCA Times
Klabin, the largest producer and exporter of packaging paper in Brazil partnered with the SENAI Institute of Innovation in Biosynthetics and Fibers and the cosmetics company Apoteka after observing increasing prices and low availability of petrochemical-based binding agents used to manufacture hand sanitizer.
The opportunity was there. They could replace the scarce and more expensive petrochemical-based thickening agent with micro fibrillated cellulose (MFC), a product extracted from wood from the pulp mill. As a result, studies were successfully carried out over two weeks using Aspen PlusR and Aspen Process Economic Analyzer to determine the feasibility of this innovative process and the economics of scale up. After this validation, they finished in record time the tests for industrial-scale manufacture of hand sanitizer using thickening agent made from wood cellulose, providing a more economical alternative to the traditional petrochemical-based binding material used.
And to provide more value, the MFC used is a specific type of nanocellulose that guarantees higher hydration to the skin, preventing dryness due to continuous use of the product.
The collaboration between Klabin, SENAI and Apoteka shows how organizations can be resilient during VUCA conditions. As João Bruno Valentim, Coordinator of SENAI Institute for Innovation in Biosynthetics and Fibers said: “Moments like the current one demand intense collaboration and agility in the search for solutions that mitigate the effects of the pandemic.”
Sustainability in Pulp & Paper and the Circular Economy
In addition to the added complexity of the past months and how companies reacted to ensure continuity in their operations, industries like pulp and paper are setting more aggressive goals to achieve sustainability metrics, minimize energy and water use, reduce emissions, generate less waste and mitigate the effects on climate change. To name a few examples, International Paper looks to manufacture 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable products by 2030, Stora Enso has an energy efficient target by 2030 to achieve as a minimum 0.8% annual energy savings, and SCA will focus on efficient use of resources, zero waste by 2030 and high raw material yield in every process.
Modern pulp and paper manufacture processes are the product of decades of work focused on recovering energy and pulping chemicals. And companies are continuously looking for new alternatives to reduce waste and obtain more valuable products from sources that they would normally be combusting to cover the steam demand for the pulp mill, such as bark, wood chips or black liquor. Klabin is a good example of how paper companies contribute to the creation of a circular economy through industrial symbiosis, where the waste of the pulp mill becomes raw material for a different industry. And as SENAI demonstrated in this collaboration, tools in the AspenTech Performance Engineering solution can help determine the technoeconomic feasibility of innovative processes for the circular economy.
But the pulp and paper industry is quite demanding when it comes to energy use. Recent research also looks for more efficient ways to reduce the energy use and to identify alternative energy generation from black liquor to cover internal energy demand, while generating revenue from surplus energy generation. And digitalization of the pulp mill through digital twin models and AI-enabled technologies like Aspen ProMVTM and Aspen Hybrid ModelsTM are key to controlling and improving the efficiency of current operations.
There is an increase in projects worldwide that integrate biorefineries with the pulp mills for producing fuels such biodiesel and bioethanol, generate electricity and manufacture chemicals, using waste or by-products from the pulp and paper processes (wood chips, bark, black liquor, etc.) driving the circular economy in the pulp mill.
These projects and innovations will help the pulp & paper industry comply with sustainability goals and help to drive more revenue to the company through new business opportunities, providing the necessary conditions for resilient companies to thrive under VUCA conditions.
Is your company ready for this? Contact me to find out more how Aspen Tech can help drive digitalization and circular economy in Pulp & Paper.