When comparing the Nordic, North American and South American varieties of softwood pulp, it’s difficult to make a general statement about which is superior. That said, when considering the range of applications each may be suitable for, Nordic softwood pulp does have the strong advantage of versatility.
While South American softwood may find its most suitable applications limited to bulky paper products, its Nordic counterpart can be deployed in a range from strong packaging paper to hygiene products – tissue for instance – or for paper with excellent printability, or even writing paper.
When we look at the world’s markets, there are certain growth areas in which this versatility can be a definite boon. Generally speaking, the hygiene market is expanding a great deal, and here consistency – a strength associated with Nordic softwood pulp – is a key property. Consistency has a strong effect on quality when it comes to paper- and board-making. In this respect, Nordic pulp offers a vast improvement on that of its equivalents, which can contain larger variations in raw material supply.
Another emerging market is for various types of food packaging. We eat more and more pre-prepared and frozen food, and fibre-based packaging, be it paper or board, is an area that continues to grow.
Consistency is important here too: a more even material means a better end result, something that pulp-purchasing customers – and end users shopping for household goods – notice. Nordic pulp’s reputation for sustainability is another key advantage in this market.
A Nordic affair
The Nordic region’s development of forestry is the main factor enabling these distinctions, I would suggest. Responsible practices – most visible to the layman in the various forms of forest certification – have been incorporated earlier and more comprehensively across Nordic forests than anywhere else in the world.
The modern and remarkably efficient infrastructure of the forestry industry itself is another important feature. Here in the Nordic countries, we have pushed for more expansive usage of the side streams associated with the pulp production process, which is, in itself, a mark of efficiency.
Using as much of its raw materials as possible, minimising water use and waste, and striving for high energy efficiency have become the hallmarks of Nordic pulp production, and with demand for sustainable pulp around the world increasing hand-in-hand with sustainability performance (reduced emissions to air and water, and lower carbon footprints), it’s easy to see this trend of continuous improvement continuing in the future.
It’s important to point out that this expertise extends beyond production techniques into knowledge of the fibres themselves. Understanding the properties of various fibre types and how they can interact in the pulpmaking process is at the heart of the Nordic pulp and paper industries.
The applications of this knowledge have vast potential. On one hand, this could represent a task as straightforward as developing a more sellable fibre from certain raw materials either at hand or easily available, but it can also extend into more innovative areas. Reducing weight without sacrificing strength is one great example of Nordic fibre know-how at work.
This all seems to feed into the same set of circumstances, aims and ambitions shared across the Nordic pulp industry. From forestry to process and fibre knowledge, pride in one’s work is overwhelmingly the main motivator. In the Nordics, at least, nothing beats the satisfaction of a job well done.
Peter Axegård, PhD
Director of Business Area Biorefinery Strategy