In search of a replacement for petroleum-based products and materials, the world is turning its attention to biomaterials. We spoke with Mark DeAndrea, vice president and business unit leader for Domtar’s BioMaterials Innovation team, about what the future holds for biomaterials.
Why is the BioMaterials Innovation team important to Domtar?
The world is transitioning away from one that depends on petroleum-based products toward one that will favor bio-based products. To do so, we need access to harvestable, sustainable, renewable biomass — the largest source of which is trees. According to the USDA Forest Products Laboratory, there are more than 22 billion metric tons of standing forest in the United States alone, growing at 2 percent annually. Approximately 1 percent, or 236 million metric tons, of that supply is harvested each year.
Think about it. Petroleum is derived from plant and animal matter that has been underground, under extreme heat and pressure, for millennia, slowly becoming fossil fuel. At Domtar, we can now achieve the same result in less than a day at a pulp mill, where we break down wood into cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin and extractives — materials that are renewable and managed sustainably, without releasing sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere.
Our BioMaterials Innovation team is looking for ways to leverage our asset base, including but not limited to our mills and our biomass supply chain. We started three years ago by formalizing a process to map, screen and quantify opportunities. We’ve been looking at macro trends — such as the move to ban plastic or increase the use of biodegradable, carbon-neutral, renewable fuel sources and materials — to identify pain points within existing industries and determine where we can provide a solution and, more importantly, have a competitive advantage.
For example, the adhesives industry is moving away from products containing formaldehyde. Can we use our lignin to produce formaldehyde-free resins? After some initial evaluation work, we concluded the answer was yes. The evaluation process also includes understanding the patent landscape, the value proposition, the market risks, etc. At the end of the day, our product also needs to be on par with existing petroleum-based products.
Where are the opportunities for Domtar in biomaterials, today and in the future?
We have five BioMaterials Innovation platforms: extractives, lignin, cellulosic sugars, advanced fibers and thermochemical fuels.
Extractives is our most mature platform. If you have ever touched a tree and found yourself with sticky sap or oils on your hands, those are the extractives. Our pulping process cooks those extractives out of the wood. We collect them and sell them in bulk as raw materials, or feedstock, to specialty refiners. They, in turn, sell them to companies who put them into products we use every day.
For example, the alpha-Pinenes found in our turpentine are used in insect repellents, soaps, toothpaste, makeup, fragrances, food flavorings, lubricants, resins, inks and other common household goods. We are exploring ways to move downstream into some of those markets with our partners as well.
much more at: https://newsroom.domtar.com/biomaterials-innovation/