Diving deep into more sustainable pulping technology

Making pulping technology more sustainable

Currently, pulping of wood to isolate cellulose fibres for paper production uses energy-intensive technologies developed more than a century ago that require fossil chemicals.

Green technology actively seeks new solvents to replace common organic solvents that present inherent toxicity and have high volatility, leading to the evaporation of volatile organic compounds to the atmosphere. Over the past two decades, ionic liquids (ILs) have gained enormous attention from the scientific community. However, their environmental credentials are often challenged, mainly due to their poor biodegradability, biocompatibility, and sustainability. Deep eutectic solvents (DESs) are promising alternatives to ionic liquids.

What are deep eutectic solvents?

They’re defined as a mixture of two or more components, which may be solid or liquid and that at a particular composition present a high melting point depression becoming liquids at room temperature. 

Why are they significant?

New, mild pulping technologies based on natural DESs lead to a significantly more sustainable process that is energy-, cost- and resource-effective while producing much lower CO2 emissions.

How is Sappi involved?

Sappi is an active participant in PROVIDES (PROcesses for Value-added fibres by Innovative Deep Eutectic Solvents). This is a research and innovation project within the European Biobased Industries Initiative. Its goal is to significantly reduce CO2 emissions in pulp and papermaking. Specifically, the project aims to achieve an 80% reduction of CO2 emissions while creating 50% more value. 

What’s next?

Looking ahead, the pulping part of the DES research cluster, coordinated by the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT), will continue to conduct further applied research towards the realisation of a DES pulping pilot and demo, ultimately leading to commercial implementation in 2030.