The development of a revolutionary solvent is soon to enable energy savings in the paper industry. Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) signed an agreement recently with as many as 14 European paper producers to boost this research. Raw materials will be used efficiently, thus, if this works out. The European industry has great hopes from this new solvent.
“This is a game changer, and it means the paper industry will look very different 20 years from now”, exclaimed Henk van Houtum, chairman of VNP, the Royal Netherlands’ Paper Board Association.
The solvent is being developed by TU/e Professor Maaike Kroon and is supposed to solve many resource utilization problems in the European Paper Industry.
Professor Kroon found out that wood fibres dissolve easily in very specific ‘deep eutectic solvents’ (DES).In the paper making process, the base vegetable material that is lignocellulose such as wood chips or other forms of biomass, must be separated into lignine and cellulose. This cellulose is then used in making paper. The problem that is generally faced is that these two components are difficult to separate, high pressures and temperatures are a necessity and is thus expensive too.
Lignine is known to be insoluble, so until now dissolving wood chips has not been considered as an option. But the new solvent will make this dissolution possible.The new solvent is totally expected to be bio-degradable and vegetable based. The new procedure will produce very pure lignine which can be helpful to the paper industry for several other applications and markets, and also in the production of biodegradable plastics.
The production of paper is highly energy dependent. This is one reason why the Dutch paper industry had taken up an initiative in the year 2004 for its “’Energy Transition Paper Chain 2004-2020” which plans to halve the paper energy consumption, over time. CEPI (The Confederation of European Paper Industries) has begun looking further ahead – intending to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% before the year 2050.
Innovation, an incessant string of breakthrough technologies, is needed for forthcoming years that use more of natural materials in a sophisticated mechanism. CEPI had organized a competition that Kroon had won last year – ‘deep eutectic solvents’, this one Kroon had worked upon for several years. Henk van Houtum of the VNP, is of the opinion that the usage of DES will ultimately lead to a a 40% lower energy cost level and a 20% less CO2 emission level.
Many companies which belong to the industry are funding this research. This is a special understanding, according to Kroon and requires four years of research. Kroon hopes to recruit two PhD candidates for conducting this research which has no government backing yet. This means that the funding companies do see a lot of potential in the research and are awaiting an implementation of the solvent. Large-scale applications might be expected to be possible in around 15 years.
DES consists of two compounds which once combined have a lower melting point than that when looked at individually. Prof. Kroon believes that DES will help in dissolving biomass and led to the current research. Her endeavor will bear fruit once the resultant is out for industry usage.