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.

Source: European Forest Institute

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