Tissue Talks with social distancing

This year’s Tissue Talks events were organised as webinars due to the Covid-19.

Sören Back
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Since 1983 Valmet has had an unbroken chain of tissue seminars but Covid-19 caused the planned tissue seminars for 2020 to stop; Tissue Talks LIVE and Tissue Talks DIVE. Instead these seminars were arranged as webinars, which also proved to work very well.

This blog covers some interesting points that were presented during the Tissue Talks LIVE, a two-hour broadcast with live interviews, lectures, commentary and other content from leading influencers and companies in the tissue industry.

This year’s theme for Tissue Talks LIVE was “A green perspective of an untold future” and Valmet had brought no less than twenty-one speakers, out of which fourteen externals, from Europe, Middle East, North America, and Asia. The speeches were grouped in four areas; Expecting the unexpected, A new perspective on new raw materials, Environmental footprint – wipe them out or imprint a path forward, and Sustainable growth.

27july20 3aJan Eliasson, Chairman of SIPRI and former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, gave a broad view on threats, hopes and the world after Covid-19.

The webinar started off with a keynote speech by Jan Eliasson, Chairman of SIPRI and former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. His presentation covered the areas Threats, Hopes and After Covid-19 and their consequences for humanity. The four main threats are climate change, pandemics, conflicts and wars, and polarisation between and within countries. “The climate change is top of the list and fighting it must be embedded in all we do,” was his message. It has a link to pandemics and therefore it must be a balance between man and nature. On the hopeful side four trends were listed; Women are playing bigger roles with more power, young people’s attitudes to sustainability and wars, science and technical development, and international cooperation like the Paris agreement.

Without giving summaries of each speaker’s presentation during Tissue talks LIVE I would like to highlight some important things that came out of the webinar. There is an optimistic view on the future for the tissue industry, not least due to the pandemic and the public awareness of good personal hygiene. During the initial phase of the pandemic, consumers in many countries, not least in the USA, bought and stored toilet paper like never before. This enabled a tissue industry capacity utilisation of 99.8 % in March and 99.5 % in April but also caused logistic challenges.

The pandemic has temporarily rocked the tissue market as the consumer market suddenly increased drastically while the AFH market suffered due to a tough market situation for restaurants, hotels and similar service businesses. The sudden increase of people working from home also moved tissue consumption from offices to homes. There was, however, a common understanding among speakers that consumers’ awareness and importance of good personal hygiene will continue to increase usage of tissue products.

27july20 2Valmet Advantage DCT200 tissue machine. Photo: Valmet.

As societies gradually open, the AFH market will recover and even gain due to more sanitation needs in addition to the normal demand of tissue products for these service businesses. All in all, the demand for tissue products is expected to stabilise on a higher level than before after the pandemic but with an expected continued growth.

Sustainability was a key word and a range of ways and methods to an even more sustainable tissue industry was presented. Speakers presented examples on how new raw materials, new technologies, energy savings and process optimisation will contribute to increased sustainability.

Most of the fibre raw material for tissue is fresh fibre or recycled fibre but there are also some other fibre sources used. Columbia Pulp in Dayton (WA) produces pulp from wheat straw, annually using 250,000 tonnes of wheat straw, straw that was previously burnt, thus having no commercial value but causing an environmental problem. The annual production is 140,000 tonnes of unbleached wet lap pulp annually from wheat straw and this is used in production of molded fibre, tissue and towels, and specialty papers and packaging. Their proprietary pulping process is the result of decades of research from agricultural specialists and scientists at the University of Washington.

Bagasse is another non-wood raw material used for tissue. The pulping process is different and milder, and the pulp is easy to bleach, has no spots but on the minus side it has lower bulk and opacity than wood-based pulps. Bamboo is a regional fibre mainly used in Asia and gives a pulp with properties somewhere between softwood and hardwood.

The situation in China regarding tissue and environmental matters was presented by Cao Zhenlai, Vice President, SinoLight Corporation, China Technical Association of Paper Industry. The Chinese tissue consumption is increasing but due to the pandemic the tissue production fell to 70 % of the normal one. Most of the pulp used is imported but there is now a trend to buy more pulp from local certified producers. From the end of 2021 there will be a ban on import of recycled wastepaper although the effects were said to be small for the tissue producers. The Chinese government has introduced tough environmental regulations and Chinese consumers are getting more environmentally conscious and a trend is that they are asking for FSC certified products as well as locally produced unbleached products.

27july20 4aPirita Mikkanen, Vice President Energy Metsä Tissue, was one of the keynote speakers and talked about how to Metsä Tissue aims to reach the fossil-free goal 2030.

Metsä Group has a goal to be fossil-free in 2030 which has implications for Metsä Tissue having 10 mills in five European countries. The fact that today 17 % of the energy is biobased shows the degree of challenge. Some solutions will be general, but each mill’s location will also demand locally adapted solutions. Anything from modifying processes, energy saving measures, switching from fossil-based to bio-based energy sources, utilising secondary heat, electrify and utilise artificial intelligence and big data are and will be used to achieve the fossil-free goal 2030.

Ultra-filtration of process water has proved to be a good way of reducing freshwater consumption at Essity Nokia Mill in Finland. The mill has two tissue machines and had a need for reducing water consumption which called for action. The permeate from the ultra-filtration now replaces fresh water in the paper machine showers and today the freshwater consumption is reduced to 1-3 m3 per tonne of product. Other positive effects are lower costs and improved runnability in the tissue machines by using the warm permeate instead of lower temperature freshwater.

The Valmet hybrid concept was presented as a way of saving fibres in tissue. In comparison to DCT machines the material saving corresponds to 20 % or expressed differently; when a DCT tissue machine produces 1.6 million reels per day a hybrid machine produces 2 million reels from the same pulp quantity.

Sofidel is a large tissue maker with production in Europe and in the USA producing 1.3 million tonnes of tissue products. Keynote speaker Susanna Belandi, Creative, Communication & CSR Director at Sofidel, made the point that sustainability increases the competitiveness. “Less is more” is the guiding star in savings on energy and raw material as well as financial resources. Usage of conventional plastic is reduced by using thinner films, replacing plastic with kraft paper and by switching to recycled plastic as well as bioplastic.

Valmet Automation also showed examples of how the digital platform Valmet DNA can reduce environmental impact, increase productivity as well as provide better and more efficient reporting. By an efficient control, the usage of energy and raw material as well as how to run the tissue machine can be optimised. It is even possible to predict, and hence prevent, web brakes.

The Tissue Talks LIVE 2020 can be summarised: The tissue business is healthy with an even better future after the pandemic due to increased awareness of hygiene and a business using new technologies and savings on energy and raw material in order to be even more sustainable in the future.

Soren Back portrait2Sören Back has been working in the Swedish pulp and paper industry since 1976. With an M.Sc. in chemistry with focus on in pulp and paper technology the career spans from production control, product development, sales and marketing to communications, including PR, primarily in managerial positions. Over the years Sören has worked for MoDo Paper, M-real, now Metsä Board, and SP Processum but is now running his own business, SB Kommunikation AB, as freelance writer and communications consultant with customers mainly within the pulp and paper industry.