Blog | 12/02/2022 06:28:31 | 5 min Read time

Origin of wood and local supply chains

Our relationship with forests is complex – wrapped in history, identity, legend, industry and economy – as well as the role they must play in the climate crisis. So, it is not surprising that facts and science collide with emotion and culture when we consider their role in industry.

Just as we have embarked on the decarbonisation of the energy sector, a transition to renewable carbon in the chemical and plastics industries is necessary if we are to stop adding to the earth’s greenhouse gases. To achieve this, all the materials that we currently make out of fossil carbon, which is nearly everything nowadays from packaging to clothing and household goods, need to be replaced with something renewable and integrated into a circular economy.

In the future beyond fossils, there will only be three sources of carbon – grown, captured or recycled. At Leuna, in the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt, UPM Biochemicals is investing 750 million Euros to enable the transition to renewable carbon for use in the chemical and plastics industries using woody biomass.

The process to manufacture UPM’s bio-based materials uses regionally-sourced wood from forests and side streams from sawmill operations, all from within a 250-km radius of the biorefinery. One hundred percent of the wood used to produce UPM’s renewable biochemicals is either FSC®- or PEFC™-certified and sourced from regional beechwood forests - conserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems. All the wood used is fully traceable and supported by a verified third-party chain of custody.

Holger Koth, Head of Saxony-Anhalt State Forest Service’s south division, said: “We are supplying sustainably sourced, certified beechwood from forests in the region to UPM Biochemicals. The biorefinery’s responsible use of regional beechwood will enable forest businesses and foresters to tap into a new, sustainable end-use in the future. We ensure sustainable harvesting practices supporting the preservation of forest ecosystem services, such as biodiversity and carbon capture. This responsible economic use of the hardwood is good news for the forest, the economy and the planet.”

The Saxony-Anhalt State Forest Service’s south division manages the area around Leuna, about 21,500 hectares of mainly broadleaf forest – and the first truck with beechwood was delivered from this forest to the biorefinery in November.

 
 

Martin Ledwon, Vice President Sustainability, Marketing and Communications, says: “Forest management and environmental benefits of forests are not mutually exclusive. In fact, sustainable forest management accelerates CO2 sequestration in the forest. Certification schemes such as those we use for our biorefinery ensure biodiversity and social sustainability in the forest. And finally, the industrial use of wood enables reforestation and ecosystem-focused replanting and protection approaches. To sum it up: if we stop managing and using our forests, we will limit the positive climate contribution of forests and risk having healthy and diverse forests in Germany.”

The use of wood to produce ingredients for biochemicals represents a completely new market for the forest sector. It offers significant market development and helps Germany in its transformation process away from fossils and allows foresters and forest companies to participate in a future-proof use case for their biomass.

The economic use of beechwood represents a relevant new source of income for many forestry owners. Strengthening alternative use cases for local beechwood supports forest owners in times of dramatic changes to their business model, driven by the vast damages to previously dominant spruce and pine forests. UPM offers both plannability and a credibly sustainable use case for the dominant hardwood species in German forests, which to a large degree, is used for energy generation through burning.

 
 
 

“We supply from regional forests using regional partners for all supply chain activities as much as possible. This creates a very transparent supply chain and enables value generation beyond wood and chemicals. This is a great example of how the bioeconomy both enables the defossilisation of entire product streams and creates economic impact in the regions around bioeconomy businesses like our Leuna biorefinery.” Martin Ledwon continues. Needless to say, these regional supply chains also shorten transportation emissions and reduce the dependency on raw material imports from humanitarian and political crisis regions.

The bio-mono ethylene glycol (UPM BioPura™) that will be manufactured in the biorefinery in late 2023 will serve as a base material for various industrial products and consumer goods, such as plastic (PET) bottles, packaging materials, polyester textiles, and engine and battery coolants. A glycol mix can be converted into cleaning agents, de-icing fluids, fragrances, and cosmetics. Wood-based renewable functional fillers (UPM BioMotion™) are a completely new, sustainable product and alternative to carbon black and precipitated silica in various rubber end uses such as tyres, hoses, rubber floorings and scores of other rubber applications.

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