Convinced that bio-based materials will be standard constituents of future packaging solutions, Stora Enso decided to act. The company announced in December 2019 that it was investing €9m in the construction of a pilot plant for the production of furandicarboxylic acid - FDCA - a building block to produce the biopolyester polyethylene furanoate, commonly known as PEF.
The company selected the Flanders region in Belgium as the site for the plant, which it sees as a ‘hub’ for bio-based technologies. The location at the Langerbrugge recycled paper mill near Ghent ensures access to skilled workers and critical service providers in the region.
Stora Enso had previously developed a proprietary technology called FuraCore, and was able to move swiftly on the development of the pilot facility to test the technology.
Construction of the plant has since been completed and commissioning is well underway, with initial production of FDCA and PEF scheduled to start soon.
Together with a number of partners, Stora Enso will then work to validate the FuraCore products in a range of applications.
According to VP Emerging Business Dirk den Ouden, the pilot will soon be ‘up and running’,
producing material for testing. “The proof point of years of breakthrough R&D is now around the corner.”
The bigger picture of the piloting effort is to validate the chemical process and provide sample material to gain further insight into market needs and product demands. The pilot facility will initially use industrially available sugar (fructose) to produce high-value chemicals and materials for application testing. In the future, the intention is to run the process on sugars extracted from wood and other non-food-based biomass.
“Nature happens to provide our raw material in a very efficient way via crops. That’s where we’ll start. Implementing FuraCore chemistry at a large scale globally, however, requires us to rethink our raw material sourcing. That’s where sugars from trees and agricultural residues come in,” said Van Ouden.