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The International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA) has announced the three global winners of the 2018-2019 Blue Sky Young Researchers and Innovation Award. University of Pretoria Masters student Martin Wierzbicki along with Elina Pääkkönen (Finland) and Chinmay Satam (USA) were lauded for their novel wood-based research projects. They made their official presentations in Vancouver, Canada last week to industry executives at the ICFPA-hosted international CEO Roundtable, a biennial gathering of forestry and forest product companies.

The international competition – now its second round – aims to attract submissions from aspiring scientists and young engineers who are developing novel solutions using wood fibre, process improvements or other products along the forestry-pulp-paper value chain.

The research projects were judged against the theme of disruptive technologies that can revolutionise the future of forest-based products and services. The 2018/2019 contest invited submissions in two particular areas: future generation forestry and innovation in the wood-based industry. These issues are particularly topical as the world seeks greener, sustainable and renewable alternatives to packaging, fuel and materials.

Pääkkönen, Satam and Wierzbicki inspired Steve Voorhees, CEO of WestRock. “We recognize them for their many years of work to develop these exciting renewable wood and paper-based solutions,” said Voorhees.

Martin Wierzbicki and Elina Pääkkönen Martin Wierzbicki and Elina Pääkkönen

Designer wood for better industrial processing

Martin Wierzbicki, an MSc graduate from University of Pretoria in South Africa carried out research on genome-based biotechnology for designer wood.

Wierzbicki’s work has focused on how the genetic makeup of trees can be changed to improve how wood reacts to industrial processing in order to maximise the extraction of biopolymers such as cellulose, lignin and xylan (a complex sugar found in plant cells). Separating wood components into distinct processing streams as cleanly as possible allows each component to be used to make high value products, but is hampered by the strong associations between wood biopolymers that make industrial breakdown difficult and costly. 

“I have combined genetics, genomics, big data and wood chemistry analyses to build a gene network model,” he explained. “My model treats the tree as a ‘living biorefinery’, where we have control of how the wood is made.”

He hopes that his work will help companies to improve breeding techniques to reduce the loss of valuable components during wood processing and to introduce novel properties for advanced biomaterial production in trees.

Foam cushioning made from renewable fibres?

“Could we replace non-renewable packaging materials, like expanded polystyrene (EPS), with more sustainable materials?” posed Elina Pääkkönen, a senior scientist at VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland.

The objective of the work is to develop a viable earth-friendly packaging material from wood fibres using foam-assisted forming technology. “This is much like a common polystyrene foam cushioning, but made from common papermaking pulps,” explained Pääkkönen.

The process involves mechanically mixing fibres, water and a foaming agent resulting in an aqueous fibre-containing foam with an air bubble content between 50-70%. These foam-formed fibre products are based on a 100% renewable material –  wood fibres or even recycled paper fibres – and can be recycled or composted in the same way as cardboard packaging. Another advantage is that companies already have the machinery and expertise with which to produce this material.

Compostable and recyclable packaging barrier made from cellulose and crab shells

Chinmay Satam, a PhD chemical engineering candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the USA, is developing multi-layer films made from chitin nanofibre and cellulose nanocrystals for sustainable barrier applications to replace commonly used plastic barriers such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Oxygen and water barriers are very important, especially in food packaging and electronic applications, but these tend to be petrochemical derived and non-renewable. Satam has been exploring the potential of biomaterials and developing a cost-competitive, compostable, recyclable and renewable material.

Like cellulose (found in plant cell walls), chitin is an abundantly occurring substance found in the exoskeletons of crabs, insects and spiders, as well as the cell walls of fungi. “Chitin and cellulose are known to be excellent oxygen barriers but not as effective against water,” said Satam, “however by combining tiny chitin nanofibres and cellulose nanocrystals with a cheap renewable polymer with good water vapour barrier properties like polylactic acid, I have developed a composite that yields the best of both.” His focus now lies in process development to bring the production of these materials to pulp mills.

Chinmay SatamChinmay Satam

The competition process

Each country association hosted a regional round calling upon young researchers to showcase their work. After being put through a local adjudication process, countries submitted their top contenders for the global round.

“The jury unanimously praised the quality of the submissions but had the difficult duty of selecting the winners from 13 strong entries from around the world,” said Bernard de Galembert, Innovation and Bioeconomy Director at the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), who led the competition process.

A diverse jury of prominent experts from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO), forest-based company Metsä Spring and research institutes from New Zealand and Canada evaluated the submissions against several criteria: compliance with the overall theme, level of innovation, quality of the abstract, clarity of the results, capacity to solve industry challenges and ambitions as well as probability of implementation and upscaling.

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The International Council of Forest and Paper Associations’ (ICFPA<http://www.icfpa.org/>) launched its 2017 Sustainability Progress Report.  It is the sixth biennial report highlighting ICFPA members’ progress on the sustainability commitments agreed upon in the 2006 CEO Leadership Statement on Sustainability.

The full report is available at http://www.icfpa.org/uploads/Modules/Publications/2017-icfpa-sustainability-report.pdf.

cepi blue“We are proud to announce our global industry’s continuous progress, which represents our commitment to social and environmental aspects associated with forest management and the manufacture of forest-based products,” said ICFPA President Jane Molony. “We look forward to continuing to supply the growing global demand for sustainable products, including fuel, fiber and forest products, while moving towards a greener economy.”

The global sustainability performance of the forest product industry is improving, with all aggregate indicators for reporting associations showing progress from their respective baseline years:

-       Since 2004/2005, ICFPA members reduced their greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 16%, and increased the share of bio-energy in the fuel mix by 10.3 percentage points.

-       The total sustainable forest management-certified area used to supply the global industry reached 54% in 2015, up from just 12% in 2000.

-       The global paper recycling rate reached 58.9% in 2015 – a 12.4 percentage point increase from 2000.

-       Members improved their onsite energy intensity by 1.1% since the 2004/2005; reduced their SO2 emissions by 48% from 2004/2006; and reduced their use of process water by 7.2% since 2004/2005.

-       Members’ recordable incident rate was improved by 24.5% since 2006/2007.
ICFPA members that contributed to the 2017 Sustainability Progress Report are
the Australian Forest Products Association, the American Forest & Paper Association, the Confederation of European Paper Industries, Corporación Chilena de la Madera, the Forest Products Association of Canada, the Brazilian Tree Industry – Ibá, the Japan Paper Association, the New Zealand Forest Owners Association, and the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa.
The ICFPA represents 19 pulp, paper, wood and fiber-based associations that encompass 36 countries, including many of the top pulp, paper and wood producers around the world.

For more information about the sustainability of the global forest and paper industry, visit icfpa.org<http://www.icfpa.org>.

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The International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA) announced Jane Molony as its new president. Molony, executive director of the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA), will serve in this capacity for the next two years.    

cepi blue“Across the world, wood, paper and tissue products touch lives every day in ways that often go unnoticed. Without our industries’ products, many people would not be able to teach, read or learn; businesses would not be able to ship merchandise, or protect goods; nor would people be able to improve their lives through the basics of personal hygiene.

“Forest and paper products also have a great environmental and economic story to tell. It is a story that has been proudly told by the ICFPA for 15 years. I am particularly honoured to take charge of this group of leaders,” says Molony.

Molony was elected at the ICFPA’s annual meeting in Berlin, Germany last week. The meeting of 18 representatives from ICFPA members associations discussed future activities, cooperation and sustainability-related issues. 

Molony succeeds Elizabeth de Carvalhaes, president and CEO of the Brazilian Tree Industry, who served as ICFPA president for the past three years.

“It has been a privilege to help the ICFPA continue its legacy of advocacy on important issues of interest of this global industry, and I have put significant efforts in communication. I believe this industry has a remarkable story to tell and we are just scratching the surface when it comes to public awareness and understanding of the sustainable benefits of the global forest products industry,” said Carvalhaes. “It was a great pleasure and honour to be part of this important forum and network of leaders and Ibá will continue to advocate towards the global forest industry and the plantations based industry locally and globally.”

“On behalf of the entire ICFPA, I would like to thank Elizabeth for her leadership and guidance,” adds Molony. “I look forward to continuing to work with her and the other members of the steering committee to ensure a strong global forest products industry.”

The ICFPA represents more than 30 national and regional forest and paper associations around the world.

For more information about the sustainability of the forest and paper industry, visit www.thepaperstory.co.za and icfpa.org. www.forestryexplained.co.za is also worth a visit.


The Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) is the local industry association for manufacturers of pulp, paper, board, tissue and recycled paper. PAMSA promotes the production, consumption and recovery of the renewable fibre that is paper, both locally and in collaboration with industry associations around the world.

Key to PAMSA’s agenda is upholding sustainable forest management and paper production as an efficient and cost-effective solution to climate change mitigation. Core focus areas include lobbying for fair and applicable legislation, boosting education and skills development as well as investing in research and innovation.

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The International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA) eighth biennial International CEO Roundtable has taken place in Berlin, Germany. More than 20 forest based industry CEOs and association leaders from around the world met to discuss industry innovation, sustainability aspects, current political aspects and future trends that may impact the industry at local and international levels.  

cepi blue“The global forest and paper industry stands firm in achieving its sustainability commitments based on its common values. Today’s conference provides us with an opportunity to reaffirm these values in today’s interconnected and fast-paced world,” said Peter Oswald, Mondi Group CEO designate (from 11 May 2017), who chaired the roundtable.

The CEOs discussed industry improvements in sustainability practices and innovation. They also watched the 3 global finalists of the Blue Sky Young Researchers and Innovations Award presenting their projects in a wide range of activities relevant to forest-based science, products using forest-based raw materials, process improvements or other innovations throughout the value chain. The global finalists of the Award and their respective projects can be found at http://www.icfpa.org/who-we-are/blue-sky-young-researcher-and-innovation-award

Keynote speaker Prof. Dr. Michael Huether, economist and director of the Institute der deutschen Wirtschaft, provided insights about the effects of Global Political Disruption on the forest based industry.

The next ICFPA International CEO Roundtable will take place in Canada in 2019.

The ICFPA represents more than 30 national and regional forest and paper associations around the world.

For more information about the sustainability of the global forest and paper industry, visit icfpa.org.

Winners of Blue Sky Young Researchers and Innovation Award

Against the backdrop of these discussions, the ICFPA announced the winners of the Blue Sky Young Researchers and Innovation Award, a global award that aims to stimulate interest by young researchers carrying out projects in a wide range of activities relevant to forest-based science, products as well as process improvements or other innovation throughout the value chain.

The theme of the 2016-2017 global competition was “Game Changing Technologies for the Forest and Paper Industries – Unfolding Potential of Forest, Paper and Wood-Based Products”. Each participating country nominated national candidates to compete internationally. This year, 12 projects were nominated by ICFPA members to the international phase. Based on the assessment of a jury composed of experts of different regions and organisations, three winners were selected:

-       Koh Sakai, with the project ‘Cellulose nanofibres prepared by phosphorylation’

-       Shuji Fujisawa, with the project ‘Biocompatible nanocellulose/polymer composite microparticles formed by emulsion-templated synthesis’

-       Esthevan Gasparoto, with the project ‘Cutting-edge technologies for forest monitoring and measurement’

Two South African students among finalists

South Africa’s Sonja Boshoff and Ryan Merckel won the South African round and were counted among the 12 finalists. Boshoff’s work looked at the potential of biological and thermochemical technologies for the conversion of solid waste streams from paper and pulp mills into energy. She is currently a research engineer at Mpact Paper, Stellenbosch.

Merckel pitched his research on Catalytic Pyrolysis for Upgrading of Bio-oil. He has recently been selected as an exchange student with Malardalen University in Sweden. He is doing his PHd through the University of Pretoria as part of the PAMSA co-funded project with the Department of Science and Technology. 

“The ICFPA congratulates all the participants and the global winners of the first edition of this global competition. We believe it is important to foster knowledge and stimulate innovative research among young researchers.  Our industry is a vibrant and dynamic workplace for the future and therefore we will continue our support of students and young professionals”, said ICFPA President Elizabeth de Carvalhaes.  

For more information on the award and researchers finalists: http://www.icfpa.org/who-we-are/blue-sky-young-researcher-and-innovation-award

The ICFPA represents more than 30 national and regional forest and paper associations around the world. For more information about the sustainability of the global forest and paper industry, visit icfpa.org.

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cepi blueThe International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA) and its members welcome the signing of the landmark United Nations agreement to tackle climate change, set to take place on April 22. The agreement urges countries to implement policies that would allow them to keep a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. The global forest products industry has a highly significant role to play in the implementation of these targets.

“The global forest products industry has made significant strides in reducing its carbon footprint, stocking carbon, and generating greenhouse gas removals – all helping to mitigate climate change”, said ICFPA President and Brazilian Tree Industry (Ibà) President Elizabeth de Carvalhaes. “This agreement is crucial to implementing some of the policies that consider biomass as carbon neutral when harvested from sustainably managed forests and to further recognize all positive contributions that forests and forest products provide in combating climate change.”

The inherently-renewable global forest products industry remains committed to mitigating climate change for the benefit of the green economy and society at large. ICFPA members have achieved an impressive 5% reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions intensity since 2010/2011 and 17% since the 2004-2005 baseline year (2015 ICFPA Sustainability Progress Report).

The European pulp and paper industry has been a global champion in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. It has set itself in 2011 a clear vision of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and since then, taken concrete steps to reach that goal,” said Jori Ringman, Acting Director General of Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI). “Thanks to responsible sourcing practices and sustainable forest management, the forest area is growing in Europe by an area of over 1,500 football pitches per day. CEPI is pleased to see development in the same direction globally”, he added.

The forest industry’s significant role in mitigating climate change was highlighted in the ICFPA-commissioned report Analysis of Forest Contributions to the INDCs by acclaimed researcher Paulo Canaveira. Having looked at the contributions of forests in the national targets of ICFPA member countries (INDCs) and global mitigation effort from 2020 onwards, the report concludes that many countries identify forests and the land-use sector as relevant to policies and measures implemented to meet their targets. Reducing emissions from deforestation, but also sustainable forest management, afforestation and reforestation are commonly mentioned as key mitigation practices. In some developing countries, they even constitute the country’s main contributions.

Other climate change mitigation efforts of the global forest products industry include supporting national and regional climate policies and programs; investing in technologies with low carbon footprints and ones that improve carbon sequestration; and developing bio-based technologies to find innovative ways to use wood fiber and substitutes for goods traditionally made from fossil fuels.

The ICFPA represents more than 30 national and regional forest and paper associations around the world. Together, ICFPA members represent over 90 percent of global paper production and more than half of global wood production.

For more information about the global forest and paper industry, visit www.icfpa.org

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