Chlorine Free Paper Issues


What is the availability of tree-free pulping facilities, and future outlook?

Figure 1. 1998 Non Wood Pulping Capacity
(click for larger picture)


Current Status, U.S. and International

Ag pulping facilities are very limited at the moment. I am aware of very few such facilities (2-3) in the US that can presently pulp ag fibers. - Jeff Lindenthal, President, Green Field Paper Company

There are several mills in North America with the ability to process and make paper out of certain tree-free fibers, mostly recovered cotton fibers. And some of these mills can and do make papers using other tree-free fibers.
      But the vast majority of papermaking facilities are geared toward making paper from trees. For example, with alternative fibers, it can be more difficult to remove the water during papermaking, and that can create a large cost disadvantage. Tree-based paper machines would not be able to efficiently drain water out of tree free fibers at their current configuration, which is designed to make paper profitably.
      The paper machines that are currently making cotton, kenaf, or hemp are generally set up differently to be able to make paper profitably from these different fibers, but the cost structure is higher. I'm sure tree-based paper manufacturers could use cotton/hemp/kenaf on their big machines, slow the machines, increase suction, and increase drying temperatues and make the hundreds of other alterations that need to be made. However, there's no financial incentive for them to do that until people say they only want papers that include alternative fibers. They, like everybody else, have to make a profit. - Peter Hopkins, Environmental Papers Consultant for Crane Paper Company, Gargan Communications

There are three to four mills that can pulp nonwood fibers (Kimberly Clark, Ecusta, and Dexter). Dexter pulps nonwoods for high quality, highly specialized medical and technical grade papers. There were a number of small Chinese straw pulping mills, but the government is shutting them down due to their high effluent output. Mexico has a bagasse pulping mill. - Tom Rymsza, President, Vision Paper

Currently agricultural fiber pulping facilities are very limited and generally dedicated to producing technical pulps for specific applications. - Living Tree Paper Company


Figure 2. 1998 Estimated Non Wood Pulping Capacity
(click for larger picture)


In Australia, Arisa is raising funds to build a 38,000 ton/yr bleached wheat straw market pulp mill at Horsham, Vic. Pulping is to be by the Naco Process, with start-up aiming for 2001. Silica content removal (desilication) will take place at 3 stages - namely, on the straw (NaOH treatment); in the green liquor (lime addition); and in the effluent treatment plant. - Higgins 2000

China pulps both wheat and rice straw, and accounts for 75% of total world straw production. The large pulp mills utilizing wheat straw are mainly located in Europe. The Danish Fredericia mill, which was the only dedicated wheat straw market pulp mill in Europe (the other mills being integrated with paper production) and the Spanish Saica pulp mill are both thought to have been shut down.
      The new Cellpaille mill, in France, is using a Saica digester and soda cook, with spent liquor recovery/treatment by the LPS Process (Granit). The spent black liquor is acidified to pH 2.5-3 to precipitate the lignin, which is then processed, washed, dried and sold for uses similar to those for lignosulfonates (although it is sulfur-free). The resulting filtrate is treated by wet air oxidation (SRS Process; sodium recovery system), with oxygen being utilized rather than air. -, "Wheat Straw and Rice Straw"

There are essentially no pulping facilities for agricultural fibers in the U.S. or Canada. Exceptions are two facilities for pulping high value, specialty fibers and the very small straw pulping unit of Arbokem. There is a mill in Mexico that pulps bagasse, the residual cane after sugar extraction. This pulp is used in various paper grades. Worldwide, 7-8% of the total virgin pulp fiber production is from nonwood materials. - Michael Jackson, Consultant, Tolovana Park, OR

14 flax pulp mills, production capacity about 75,000 tpa
23 hemp pulp mills, production capacity about 80,000 tpa
9 abaca pulp mills, production capacity about 35,000 tpa
U.S. - 2 mills w/ max 20,000 tpa hemp pulp production
Phillipines - 1 mill w/ max 8,000 tpa abaca pulp production
- Judt 1993


Figure 3. World Papermaking Pulp Capacity
(click for larger picture)


In the U.S., paper was traditionally made from non-woods, mainly waste products from the textile industry. During World War II, there were 25 mills in the midwest producing corrugating medium from wheat straw. The last straw pulp mill closed by the end of 1960. Non-wood fibers were no longer competitive for four reasons:

  • Development of the kraft recovery system as an efficient means for recovering spent chemicals in wood pulping;
  • Increases in labor cost in a labor-intensive industry: straw harvesting, storage and pulping technologies were less economic than similar wood-based processes;
  • Westward shift of the agricultural production: straw as a fiber source moved further away from the pulp and paper industry and its customers; and
  • Increases in fuel cost: paper mills' access to bagasse, a waste product from sugar refining, declined as sugar mills switched back to using it as a fuel source when prices for other fuels increased.

- Environmental Defense Fund Paper Task Force, White Paper 13, "Non-Wood Fiber Sources"

Future Outlook

Pandia digester, a continuous digester specially designed for nonwood pulping, is available. But a wood digester can be also used in nonwood pulping. As far as future outlook, especially in the U.S., the price of wood chips is falling and the U.S. trade deficit in paper and board has widened significantly since 1996. For the first time in many decades, U.S. paper and paperboard production capacity has actually declined. American farms are already subsidized and two major crops - corn and wheat residues - could be converted into pulps. Several dozen small digesters can be installed in corn and wheat belts and start producing pulps. Future outlook seems to me is based more on the control of imports and national policy rather than availability of agricultural pulping facilities. Without a national policy, cheap imported chips, pulps, and papers will flood the U.S. market. - James S. Han, Research Chemist, USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory

There is the potential for large-scale commercialization of tree-free paper, but there remain a number of obstacles, many of them agricultural. As Daniel Kugler's report "Non-Wood Fiber Crops" demonstrates, a major barrier is the lack of processing plants and commercial-scale agricultural equipment. Many of the test plots have been harvested using equipment borrowed from other industries, including sugar cane and cotton. But kenaf harvesters have been built and tested. These problems would be easily overcome if the industry were focused on them. - Jim Motovalli, "The Paper Chase"

There are a couple of projects underway, though we cannot expect to see results for 2-5 years. - Jeff Mendelsohn, President, New Leaf Paper

Two of the characteristics of nonwood fiber use about which there appears to be relatively widespread general agreement are the seasonality of annual crops and the transport costs of moving low bulk density agricultural fibers. From the established paper industry's point of view, both compare unfavorably to wood, which can be harvested year-round and stored indefinitely, and is much denser than agricultural fibers and thus comparatively less expensive to transport. Agricultural pulp mills continue to be contemplated (though not built) at scales of up to 500-600 tpd. However, there is increasing agreement that for reasons of transport efficiency and fiber supply security, the optimal scales for agricultural pulp production, even in developed countries, should be much smaller. . . . Generally, the transport issues associated with nonwoods, the corollary emphasis on smaller-scale pulping formats, and the issues of heterogeneity in fiber types, sources, and applications, are the basis of an increasingly strong regional theme that runs through the debate. - Maureen Smith, The U.S. Paper Industry and Sustainable Production

There are limited nonwood pulping facilities. Cotton pulp mills are probably the most readily available. Vision Paper is working on developing a dedicated pulp mill focusing on kenaf.
      A new nonwood mill will give kenaf viability in the mainstream paper market. Many pulp mills that are in use were built over fifty years ago. It has been over a decade since a new pulp mill has been constructed. There have been improvements in the efficiencies and environmental systems for pulp mills in recent years. Vision Paper's mill will take advantage of these advancements. Working with a raw material which pulps with less chemicals and energy than trees gives kenaf another economic advantage. We expect that the mill will be producing tree-free pulp that will cost less than tree-pulp, furthering market advancement.
      The mill is designed to use local agricultural resources. The design can be easily replicated so subsequent mills can be constructed as demand increases. - Tom Rymsza, President, Vision Paper

Led by entrepreneurs such as Nile Fiber, Mells Industries, etc. on the forefront, and traditional leaders such as Buckeye Technologies, the future of nonwoods is exciting in all of the fields (annuals, herbaceous, residues, processing waste). We will continue to see more natural product such as feminine hygiene, cigarette papers, etc., where consumers prefer cotton and other natural fibers over the synthetics. For example, we will have kenaf placemats with an antimicrobial agent to ensure a clean eating area. The markets are limitless. - Peter A. Nelson, President, AgroTech Communications, Inc.

All Kraft and TCF mills can run Arundo donax. We are negotiating new licensees as we speak. Also, Samoa-Pacific has the ability to sub-license. - Ernett Altherimer, Founder and Chairman, Nile Fiber

It doesn't seem like there are many, though I'm not an expert. Arbokem was built to focus on agricultural fiber use. All the others sound like they're on the West Coast. As far as the market expanding in the next years, there are a number of hurdles such as raw materials only being available once a year rather than year round. Trees can store for extended periods of time whereas rot and decomposition threaten bales of straw.
      The industry needs to do a better job at putting their nonwood materials side by side with trees to understand as a country which papers are preferable. There is a lot of support on "the hill" for agriculture based products. On the other hand, the forestry industry has a lot of lobbyists. Without good information, the industry is not going to get far. - Russell Clark, Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program, US EPA

Economics are the biggest barrier for nonwoods going into the niche markets. They may not have an advantage because people may not see trees as toxic. Whereas consumers might believe that agricultural products were grown with pesticides, they could believe trees just grew in a forest and must be natural. - Russell Clark, Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program, US EPA

The issue of agri-pulping in developed countries is complex. Some of these barriers are very difficult to overcome. One of the most important pathways to "save trees" is to use less paper, but this approach is contrary to the growth-oriented market economy.
      See for example, my presentations, "Agricultural Fibers for Pulp and Paper Manufacture in Developed Countries," "How Many Trees Can Be Saved?," "Experience in the Technical and Market Development of Agri-Pulp Printing Papers in North America," and "Obstacles and Opportunities in the Development of an Agri-Pulp Industry in the Pacific Northwest." - Al Wong, Founder, Arbokem

While some experimentation has been done with agricultural residuals in papermaking, there is a very small opportunity to use residual fibers based on the fact that papermaking facilities are often far from sources of agricultural residuals. Shipping, handling, and storing costs would be high relative to those for wood. Building facilities dedicated to pulping agricultural materials would seem to be a very high risk venture. - International Paper

Various companies are working on a desilication process. So far, the best process has been developed by the Central Pulp and Research Institute (CPPRI) for a newsprint mill in India, with assistance from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The process should eliminate 70-80% of the silica, but requires further testing in commercial operations. - Environmental Defense Fund Paper Task Force, White Paper 13, "Non-Wood Fiber Sources"

My goal is to build a series of dedicated kenaf pulp mills that would be the cleanest pulp mills in the country (world), utilizing bioenergy, and producing cost-competitive products. - Tom Rymsza, President, Vision Paper

The Malaysian research and development center, Technology Park Malaysia (TPM) . . . is conducting research on manufacturing paper from banana stems. . . . [I]t plans to work with companies in Australia and Japan that are already in the early stages of banana paper production. TPM laboratory technician and researcher Nurul Huda Muhammad estimates that around 1 billion tonnes/yr of banana stems are left to rot. Japan's Banana Paper Project Supporting Association (BPPSA) is still in talks with the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations on plans to establish banana paper mills in 100 developing countries. . . . The BPPSA has already set up facilities in Haiti and Jamaica and hopes to build the others by 2015. -, "Malaysia studies banana paper production," July 2, 2004


Click Here for Table 6: Leading Users of Nonwood Fibers in Papermaking


Transform Australia is rebuilding its PM to raise output of banana tree fiber-based paper to 20,000 tonnes/yr. The unit produced just 2,000 tonnes last year. The plant, which is located in North Queensland, the banana-growing region of Australia, is touted as the world's only manufacturer of 100% banana paper. . . . "There's just one hurdle to go through," Johnston told Paperloop. The director explained that the firm needs more investors. Transform Australia claims banana paper is 300 times stronger than pulped paper, is water resistant and greaseproof, but fully biodegradable and environmentally friendly in that it is made using what is currently a waste product. The firm indicated that no additives, chemicals, glues or dyes are used in production. Water is not used either as the trees contain enough of their own sap to re-bond. The company believes banana paper can replace 85% of current world consumption. -, "Transform Australia to Boost Banana Paper Output," June 18, 2004

How does a paper qualify for environmentally sound manufacturing practice?

  • When it does not deplete the forest cover,
  • when it makes use of waste agricultural residues like cereal straws, which otherwise pose a problem in proper disposal,
  • when there are no effluents from the process which are toxic to the environment - land, water and air natural resources,
  • when it offers sustainable practice by not depleting a limited quantity of natural resource,
  • when it is less dependent on external energy inputs by using internal process energies like cogeneration of steam and electricity,
  • when it allows blending with wood fibres to make better quality paper at lower cost and lesser negative impact on the environment.

      Taking cognisance of all available state of the art pulp and paper making technologies available in the world today, we have the solution which satisfies all above criteria and in addition it is also economical and cost efficient.
      We know how to make paper from cereal straws. This is a plentiful agricultural waste in India and we thought why not put this to good use. In India many small plants were set up. One of them was ours - Amrit Papers. The pollution control Board of the Punjab state government told us that we couldn't enhance capacity unless we cleared up the mess we were creating with the black liquor effluent. We searched worldwide and took a lot of efforts (for a small enterprise). So we finally achieved success with the homegrown MKCR (Mahesh Khaitan Chemical Recovery technology, named after the inventor) and were given a patent too.
      We made bench and lab models and finally a pilot facility was run for 5 years until we had tweaked the process to perfection.
      We want to set up the first facility of 150 Tonnes per day pulping capacity based mostly on cereal straws, somewhere near Delhi or in Punjab. . . . We want to team up with a financial investor. - R. Santhanam, Vice President, Amrit Environmental Technologies

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