Biorefinery creates sustainable rubber products from wood

biorefinery

A new biorefinery aims to use wood to remove fossil fuels from production and create new sustainable alternatives to materials used in rubber products.

One hundred per cent of the wood used to produce renewable biochemicals at UPM Biochemicals’ biorefinery at Leuna in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany is either FSC- or PEFC-certified, 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.

The bio-mono ethylene glycol (UPM BioPura) that will be manufactured in the biorefinery 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. Other glycols can be converted into resins, 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.

The first deliveries of wood from sustainably managed regional forests arrived on site this week. The wood is both a symbolic first and an important practical step – it will enable UPM Biochemicals to begin testing its wood handling and processing activities. At the same time, it is now able to establish reliable supply chains and processes for future wood-sourcing operations and logistics chains. Finally, this event underlines the overall progress made on-site and the growing maturity of the company’s business platform. 

Michael Duetsch, vice president UPM Biochemicals, said: “Our biochemicals are made from responsibly sourced hardwood and their CO2 footprint is a radical improvement on their fossil-based equivalents. The deliveries from regional forests are a major step towards the planned commissioning and start-up of the refinery next year. And they are proof of our rigorous focus on sustainability, from the sourcing of our wood, through the footprint of our process and the impact of our products.”

Holger Koth, head of Saxony-Anhalt State Forest Service’s south division, said: “This is a historic milestone. We are supplying the first 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.” 

After breaking ground in 2020, the construction of the UPM biorefinery is in full swing. The huge construction site is currently a hive of activity with up to 1,000 workers on-site. The concrete foundations have been poured, and the first buildings are rising from the ground.

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