The term “biochemicals” is not defined precisely. We define it as a bio-based chemicals that are deriving from sustainable, renewable and climate neutral feedstocks.
UPM takes the next transformative growth step and enters the biochemicals business by investing in a biorefinery at Leuna, Germany. The biorefinery will produce a range of 100% wood-based biochemicals which enable a switch from fossil raw materials to sustainable alternatives in various consumer-driven end-uses. The investment opens totally new markets for UPM with large growth potential for the future.
UPM will invest EUR 550 million in an industrial scale biorefinery to convert solid wood into next generation biochemicals: bio-monoethylene glycol (BioMEG) and lignin-based renewable functional fillers. In addition, the biorefinery will produce bio-monopropylene glycol (BioMPG) and industrial sugars. The total annual capacity of the biorefinery will be 220,000 tonnes. The facility is scheduled to start up by the end of 2022.
UPM’s bMEG and bMPG have exactly the same molecular structure as conventional glycols produced from fossil feedstocks. Therefore, they could be used as drop-in alternatives for all applications where today petrochemical based MEG or MPG is used.
The main advantage would be that customers would not need to compromise on processability, product quality or recyclability to benefit from the improved carbon footprint of UPM’s bio-based glycols.
MEG is a key raw material for polyesters used for textiles, bottles and packaging materials. It is also main component in deicing fluids and coolants. MPG is typically used in composites, pharma, cosmetics and within the food and feed industry as well as a wide range of technical fluids.
UPM´s Renewable Functional Filler (RFF) is derived from wood-based raw materials. This new generation of fillers features diverse performance benefits like weight reduction via significantly lower material density, excellent electrical insulating properties, highest level in purity, and absence of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH). UPM’s RFF can partially or fully replace traditional functional fillers in virtually all rubber-parts in automotive and other industries, as well as in parts made from thermoplastic elastomers and thermoplastics.
Today, many other bio-based chemicals are based on so called first generation feedstocks like corn or sugarcane. Wood has several advantages compared to first generation feedstocks, for example it does not compete with food production and usually does not contain GMO.
Wood is UPM's most important raw material and we are committed to forest management and forest harvesting practices based on the internationally accepted principles of sustainable forest management. Moreover, we plant over 50 000 000 seedlings annually.
UPM monitors the origin of wood to ensure it is sustainably and legally sourced. Forest certification is an excellent tool to promote sustainable forestry. Eighty-five percent of all wood supplies are currently certified and UPM has set the goal to have all wood supplies certified by 2030. Already now, 100 percent of wood supplies to UPM are covered by third-party-audited chains of custody.
Lignin can be found in the cell walls of all plants and it is one of the most abundant biopolymers on Earth. Lignin is nature’s own “glue” due to its polymeric nature and its richness in functional groups. In nature lignin provides strength and protects plants against UV irradiation as well as fungal and bacterial attack.
Due to these properties, lignin can be used in various applications. For example, it replaces fossil phenol and formaldehyde in phenolic resins. In other polymer systems, it can be used as a structural or functional component. The main advantage would be that customers do not need to compromise on performance, to benefit from the improved carbon footprint of UPM’s lignin products.
UPM is among the seven finalists in the "transformation field resources" category of the well-renowned German Sustainability Award for its pioneering new refinery project. What's behind this new-to-the-world innovation? And how exactly can it replace millions of tonnes of CO2-intensive fossil-based raw materials? We provide answers to the most critical questions.
Climate change affects our daily life around the planet more and more. Driven by the challenge to limit its effects and become a climate-neutral company by 2040, UPM Biochemicals has put a lot of energy to make a new-to-the-world innovation happen. Once operational, the new biorefinery in Leuna, Saxony-Anhalt, will produce a range of 100 per cent wood-based biochemicals. Together, they help initiate the critical switch from sustainable raw material use and significantly reduce the carbon footprint in everyday products – from PET bottles to shoe soles, from rubber to flooring.
UPM is among the seven finalists in the "transformation field resources" category of the well-renowned German Sustainability Award for this globally unique innovation. According to the expert jury, UPM contributes to the sustainable development of resource-saving material cycles.
But where exactly lies the significant sustainability impact of the project, and how is it achieved? Here we answer the most critical questions about Leuna:
UPM is currently building the first biorefinery for woody biomass in Leuna. The biorefinery will utilize beechwood from regional forests, as well as residues from sawing industry, to produce different products:
- Renewable Functional Filler (RFF)
- Bio-Monoehtylene Glycol (Bio-MEG)
- Bio-Monopropylene Glycol (Bio-MPG)
- Industrial sugar in a liquid solution
The output ratio of these products is directly linked to the physical properties of the utilized wood. The hemicellulose part will be converted to industrial sugar. The lignin will be converted to RFF. The cellulose components of beechwood will be transformed to the glycol streams MEG and MPG. In addition to residual material streams, e.g. from sawmills, the biorefinery in Leuna will also use regional, and 100% certified industrial and thinned wood from native deciduous tree species. In this way, UPM creates incentives for forest owners to promote forest conversion to climate- and site-adapted mixed forests.
Today, millions of tons of fossil-based materials are still familiar with everyday industrial products. For example, about 15 million tons of highly CO2 intensive carbon black and silica are used annually to reinforce rubbers and plastics in tires, hoses, sealing systems and other automotive rubber and plastic applications.
Industries are actively looking for more sustainable alternatives. UPM's responsibly sourced wood-based Renewable Functional Fillers (RFF) offer superior environmental and technical performance with substantially lower weight and higher purity in a cost-effective manner.
RFF's are just one example of UPM's commitment to a future beyond fossils. Their feedstock is based on responsibly sourced wood from sustainably managed forests. By replacing materials like Carbon Black and Silica with low density, non-toxic wood-based fillers, superior environmental and technical performance is possible. Choices like these ensure the rubber and plastics industry can accelerate towards a lighter and more sustainable future.
At the very moment, UPM is conducting a significant Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to evaluate the overall environmental impacts at Leuna, enabling UPM to compare better the carbon footprint of its biochemicals with fossil-based materials such as carbon black or silica. According to preliminary results, the carbon footprint of RFF is at least 90 per cent lower than that of carbon black. Moreover, RFF is around a quarter lighter. In the case of automotive profiles consisting of around 50% carbon black, replacing them with RFF would improve the profiles' climate footprint by 45%.
MEG is one of the most important intermediates in the chemical industry. It is used for the production of plastics such as PET, which in turn is used for textiles or packaging materials. UPM's bio-based bMEG is molecularly identical to conventional MEG, which is currently produced mainly from crude oil, shale gas or coal, and can be seamlessly integrated into existing value chains.
The maximum climate benefit of the new products is achieved through integration into existing material cycles and full utilization of recyclability (currently over 95% for PET bottles in Germany). Material losses in recycling and additional demand due to growth in the market are covered in the long term by UPM biochemicals, thus enabling the transition to a sustainable circular economy.
UPM itself invests in innovative production concepts that take this circular economy into account. UPM's biorefinery guarantees that no fossil fuels are burned during regular operation. The regional availability of green hydrogen, electricity and steam was also a decisive criterion in choosing a location. The world's largest electrolysis plant for the production of green hydrogen is currently being built in Leuna. A waste incineration plant supplies low-emission steam for production. Furthermore, the possibility of generating and using green electricity is being examined, and work is being carried out with suppliers on low-CO2 alternatives for the process chemicals used.
In combination, the above measures will pave the way to an ecologically advantageous but at the same time economically attractive alternative for conventional production processes.
The range of products made with rubbers and plastics contains tires, hoses, sealing systems and other automotive rubber and plastic applications such as fittings, car hoses, door/window seals and window gaskets. Shoe soles and cases for cell phones and laptops and floor coverings comprise industrial carbon black. Conventional MEG is used as a PET plastic component in textiles and packaging materials.
UPM is currently building the world's first biorefinery to produce wood-based biochemicals in Leuna, Saxony-Anhalt, at EUR 550 million. Starting in late 2022, the plant will produce biochemicals with a significantly lower carbon footprint than conventional products based on fossil raw materials. The annual capacity is expected to be around 220,000 tonnes bio-monoethylene glycol (BioMEG) and Renewable Functional Fillers (RFF) at the start. It will make a significant and scalable contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the material value chains of the chemical industry.