The new era of biochemicals

Wood-based biochemicals are renewable, recyclable, can shorten supply chains and boost local production. And they can be used to make almost anything.

The future of wood is here. Soon all kinds of products – from bottles to de-icer to tyres – will be made from wood-based biochemicals, ushering in a new era of sustainability.

It’s not a new idea. For years, if not decades, there has been discussion about how wood-based products could replace things made from fossil materials. Until now, this idea was mostly hypothetical. Now it is really happening.

“I am very excited,” says Juuso Konttinen, Vice President, Biochemicals at UPM. “We have worked for many years to evaluate and develop different technologies for wood-based biochemicals, and it is absolutely fantastic that all our hard work is paying off.”

In early 2020, UPM announced a new biorefinery to be built at Leuna, Germany. The biorefinery will produce a range of wood-based biochemicals that can replace fossil raw materials. This is not a simple lab to showcase the possibilities of biochemicals; this is a major plant with a price tag of more than EUR 500 million and with an anticipated annual capacity of 220,000 tonnes. The next phase of sustainable biochemicals has well and truly arrived.

Huge sustainability benefits
“Look around you. Chemicals are in practically everything you can see: the paint on the wall, the carpet on the floor and the plastic in your mobile phone,” says Michael Duetsch, Vice President, Biochemicals Business at UPM.

Today 80–90% of these chemicals are fossil-based. If we replace them with chemicals based on biomass, we will have a more sustainable future.
The advantage of wood-based biochemicals is that they are better for the environment. Wood is a recyclable and renewable resource that can store carbon in the material. It will play a key role in moving the world into a carbon-neutral circular economy.

Additionally, wood-based biochemicals can shorten supply chains and boost a regional economy. Fossil fuels might be shipped halfway around the world, but wood can be produced and used locally, helping those who live and work nearby and reducing both the financial and environmental costs of transportation.

“The Leuna plant will use hardwood trees which are native to Germany,” Duetsch says. “It is good that we have more industrial applications for native hardwoods instead of using non-local softwoods. These natural hardwood forests will be more climate-stable and can help biodiversity.”
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