The microfibrillated cellulose (MFC) to be manufactured at the new facility in Imatra, Finland, will be incorporated into traditional board to produce packaging material that is “significantly lighter”, stronger and with “better barrier properties”, Vesa Simola, company senior vice president of packaging told FoodProductionDaily.com.
The Finland-based firm expects the new material to come rolling off productions lines early next year with plans in place to initially aim the product at liquid packaging such as dairy and juice products.
The MFC paper and board could also be used in dry food packaging sectors, with “lots of potential” to address current concerns of food brand owners over the migration of mineral oils from recycled materials, said Simola.
Next big lightweighting step
Stora Enso said the site should be finished by the end of this year and formed a key part of a €10m investment in the technology.
Simola said the initiative was the culmination of a three-year development project in partnership with a host of leading Scandinavian research institutes - including Innventia in Sweden and Finland’s VTT.
“We have been reducing the weight of our boards over a number of years and the development in MFC is the next big step in that process,” he added. “This will allow for radical lightweighting while maintaining and even improving barrier properties.”
The packaging chief stressed that the plant was a pre-commercial facility and estimated initial MFC output would be sufficient to produce around 100,000 tonnes of board. He added that the plant’s capacity would be difficult to predict until it was in full operation.
“At present we should produce enough to run on one of our board machines for two or three days a week,” Simola said.
But he said the company would be looking to scale up output once it had assessed the plant’s performance.
As well as packaging, Stora Enso said MFC-based material could be used in a raft of other applications
“With MFC we will be able to develop lighter, stronger renewable packaging materials, a lot more with a lot less,” said Stora Enso CEO Jouko Karvinen. “The applications of this renewable material may well extend to replacing today's fossil-based materials such as plastics and some speciality chemicals, and aluminium - revolution instead of evolution.”