Breakthroughs in lignin value chain in cooperation with Prefere Resins

UPM’s BioPiva lignin is a 100% bio-based, renewable substitute for fossil-based materials.

UPM is a pioneer in decades-long research on the utilisation of lignin in resins, adhesives, bioplastics and polyurethanes, for example. Since 2017, lignin has been used as part of the WISA BioBond gluing technology in UPM Plywood’s production. As of today, lignin can replace approximately two thirds of the phenol typically used in the adhesive – and the target is to further increase this proportion.

UPM BioPiva™ lignin and the resin technology related to its use, developed and patented by UPM Biochemicals,  are now supplied to many of the biggest resin producers worldwide, such as Prefere Resins in Europe. Prefere Resins is one of the frontrunners for lignin-based plywood-adhesives.

Prefere Resins’ Vice President of Technology, Dr. Michael Schwab, has been involved in lignin research for approximately 20 years.

“I’ve witnessed many attempts to commercialise lignin. Now it’s finally happening on a larger scale. We at Prefere value our collaboration with UPM Biochemicals and with our downstream users, because the role of lignin in resins will inevitably grow, especially in building and construction. Our role in the value chain is to bring the components of the resins together under industrial manufacturing, and create the end product itself, e.g. for UPM Plywood, combining our-long-standing experience as the leading producer in phenolic resins with UPM’s technology and know-how,” Schwab explains. “Nevertheless, this has been far from a routine upscaling process.”

Dr. Michael Schwab
Dr. Michael Schwab

Good collaboration has been crucial for the development of the production process.

“From a chemical point of view, this works in much the same way as with phenol. The lignin structure must be well integrated into the binder system. This is an extremely difficult exercise – it’s not just about replacing one substance with another. The larger the amount of phenol we attempt to replace with lignin, the more difficult it gets,” emphasises Schwab.

“But it really works. The performance of UPM BioPiva™ lignin in products such as plywood is really at the same level as with pure petro-based solutions. At the moment, the biggest potential lies in construction and wood-related applications,” he adds.

According to Christian Hübsch, Director, Lignin Business, at UPM Biochemicals, UPM’s world-class lignin expertise and pioneer status are based on three key success factors: a dedicated and highly engaged team, a network of partners inside and outside of UPM, and the ongoing, long-term commitment and support within UPM.

“We realised at an early stage that it will be critical to do this in collaboration with partners.”