UPM and Dongsung Chemical announce strategic partnership to develop renewable products using bio-based raw materials

UPM and Dongsung Chemical announce a development partnership that will accelerate the introduction of renewable, sustainable forest-sourced materials into the Asian market and reduce fossil resource consumption.

Dongsung Chemical, headquartered in South Korea and UPM Biochemicals, headquartered in Germany have agreed to form a strategic partnership to develop renewable products using bio-based raw materials, initially for footwear materials. Dongsung Chemical has signed a Letter of Intent for this strategic partnership to develop a renewable polyurethane product based on UPM Biochemicals’ biobased mono-ethylene glycols (MEG), UPM BioPura™.

UPM is investing 750 million Euros to build the world’s first industry scale biorefinery at Leuna in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, to convert sustainably sourced, certified woody biomass into next generation biochemicals. The facility aims to produce 220,000 tonnes annually in total. Bio-MEG is one of the outputs. UPM targets the start-up for end 2023.

Last June, Bioregions Facility and DBFZ (German Biomass Research Centre) co-organised a two-day hybrid workshop about “Unlocking Regional bioeconomy transitions. State of the art and ways forward”. On the second day, there was a study visit to UPM’s biorefinery construction site at Leuna.

Through the partnership of UPM and Dongsung Chemical, the two companies will actively cooperate in the development of eco-friendly products using Bio-MEG, targeting the Asian market and its vast textile and footwear industries. Dongsung Chemical plans to diversify its portfolio by advancing eco-friendly product lines, integrating UPM’s Bio-MEG into its production. Aim is to apply it first to footwear materials and then expanding the field of application to automotive interior materials and adhesives.

UPM’s Bio-MEG is produced from sustainably sourced, certified hardwood obtained from forests in the regions around Leuna in Germany. The biomass does not compete with food resources and has a carbon reduction effect of min. 70% compared to fossil fuel-based MEG. UPM is actively working on further optimizing processes to enable carbon neutrality or even negativity of the product.

ManWoo Lee, CEO of Dongsung Chemical said, “Through the partnership with UPM, we are able to access a stable supply of innovative, next generation bio-materials and apply them to our major products. As Dongsung Chemical is focusing on carbon reduction projects according to its ESG management stance, we will continue cooperating with UPM to increase the proportion of bio-materials.”

Michael Duetsch, Vice President Biochemicals Operations said: “We are delighted to partner with Dongsung Chemical as it pursues its strategy to replace petrochemical-based raw materials with bio-based raw materials and reduce the carbon footprint of its products. UPM is building a world beyond fossils, and we will work with our partners at Dongsung to deliver outstanding solutions for their customers, who are also eager to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Dongsung Chemical continues to develop eco-friendly products and technologies with the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 10% by 2030. In June, it launched a biodegradable packaging material brand ‘ECOVIVA®’ and is planning to build pilot facilities for the development of various biodegradable products such as biodegradable functional films, adhesives, and foams.

More information

Innovation, forest products and circular bioeconomy

A new study by the European Forest Institute and SweTree Technologies points out to the many innovative forest products developed in the circular bioeconomy. Novel products that are most likely to increase in market size are CLT and wood-based textile fibres. Among the new products, wood foam, glycols, bioplastics (from tall oil and wood sugars), lignin-based adhesives and wood-based composites are the ones that have potential to enter the market in the next 20 years.

For their new study, Dr Mariana Hassegawa from EFI and her co-authors from the BioMonitor project identified and reviewed a wide range innovative forest products in the EU. They found a rich set of intermediate and end-products that are being developed with many potential uses. These products span from chemical compounds to bioplastics to large items such as building materials. The growth of companies producing the new products and their increasing share of the market could form a significant force in EU bioeconomy.

With these forest products entering the market or gaining more popularity, the demand for woody biomass is expected to increase in the future. While most of the reviewed products do not require high-quality feedstock, some could benefit from forest management strategies such as tree breeding to improve selected wood traits. Other types of feedstocks originating from by-products and waste streams (e.g., sawdust, black liquor), which are currently mostly used for energy purposes within the industry, could become a limiting factor in the manufacture of certain innovative products, as it would result in an increased competition by different industries for the same material. “Although there may be more competition for feedstock in the future, the use of woody biomass for products and materials has the advantage of storing carbon and for avoiding greenhouse gas emissions through so called substitution effects as compared to using biomass for energy purposes“, says Dr Hassegawa.

The ease of market introduction of innovative products relies heavily on the products’ ability to take advantage of existing value chains. In general, many products reviewed in this study are considered drop-in, which is an advantage regarding market introduction. This is because products that require adjustments to production lines or methods are less likely to get into the market without strong external drivers that push for bio-based alternatives. Thus, the economic viability and the market expansion of forest products could be encouraged to a certain extent by EU policies. Other measures that could possibly contribute to alleviating the difficulties encountered during the development and manufacture of forest products are reducing bureaucracy, increasing the support for pilot-scale to full-scale production, and increasing subsidies for bio-based alternatives.

Full reference:
Hassegawa, M.; Karlberg, A.; Hertzberg, M.; Verkerk, P.J. 2022. Innovative forest products in the circular bioeconomy [version 2; peer review: 2 approved]. Open Research Europe, 2:19. https://doi.org/10.12688/openreseurope.14413.2

Source: European Forest Institute

Photo: mrks_v / Fotolia

Basque BioDesign Center for biodesign, circular economy and the fasion industry.

The Basque BioDesign Center (BDC) is a design and development center for the fashion industry, the circular economy and biodesign. They understand design as a factor of transformation for competitiveness, sustainability and positive impact on society and the Basque Country.

BDC is a space whose mission is to drive the digital transformation of the materials of the future through experimentation, innovation and cooperation by creating technology-based solutions. Their vision is to be an inspiring place to “create”, which aims to unite the talent of the Basque Country with that of the rest of the world and to reduce the distance between design and science. Design must be placed at the center of circular economy strategies, and not just be a part of them; it is a key element in the development of a regenerative economy.

BDC was born with the ambition of being a place of learning to encourage and nurture new practices based on the development and prototyping of new materials and designs made from agricultural/livestock/food waste. As part of their activities, BDC provides education and training courses ranging from workshops with specific themes to a postgraduate.

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