Corrugated board is the world's most widely used transport packaging. But it is not without its challenges. Its production requires a lot of wood fibre and the finished packaging can be damaged by moisture and pressure. Stora Enso has now launched a research project to improve the sustainability of corrugated board – in two ways: by using stronger paper and less raw material.
The paper industry has an opportunity to gain market share as the pressure to achieve a green transition increases. Already today, paper and corrugated board often replace plastic and other finite resources as packaging materials. But paper products also have their challenges. Corrugated board is designed to protect the contents of packaging, but if it loses its properties, the contents can be damaged or even destroyed.
Investing in research that develops the entire value chain
Stora Enso is one of Sweden's largest forest owners and operates paper mills that produce paper products for corrugated board and packaging. The company is now investing in research to develop the entire value chain in the paper mills, including through RISE's Bioeconomy Research Programme.
"The biggest challenge in our industry is to develop a material that produces stronger corrugated boxes at a reasonable cost. If we can reduce the weight of our products and packaging, we can save a lot of material. We want to make the whole chain as efficient and economical as possible," says Atso Laakso, Product Development Project Manager at Stora Enso.
Water is paper's worst enemy
Corrugated board can be subject to creep. This is when the paper changes shape and size due to the effects of water, moisture and weight over time. These are common stresses for corrugated board, which is often transported over long distances and stacked for long periods in warehouses. But there is potential to overcome creep and produce stronger paper.
"By modifying the fibre raw material in different ways, we can change things like strength, stiffness and creep. To do this, we are looking at the entire production chain - from the fibre line and spelt preparation to liner and fluting production," says Atso Laakso.
RISE is a scientifically competent partner
Finding a cure for creep
The Corrugated Packaging project, which is part of the Bioeconomy Research Programme, has focused not only on fibre modification but also on creep, a relatively new area of research in paper production.
"We have gained new knowledge about creep that will help us with further research. With more knowledge about how to increase creep resistance, fibre-based materials can have a much greater competitive advantage over plastics, for example," says Atso Laakso.
New grinding methods can save raw materials
RISE has research teams with experts in different fields who conduct research along the entire value chain. In this project, they were able to combine their knowledge of fibre refining and creep to stop paper creeping. This is a new way of working that has led to new advances.
"In one of our mills, we have been able to apply the new knowledge on fibre refining to produce stronger recycled materials. One mill alone has a turnover of several hundred million euros, so it adds up," says Atso Laakso.
Another part of the project uses vibration tables in one of RISE's research facilities to simulate vibrations. They are looking at how this affects corrugated board and how a filled box behaves during transport. The hope is to find ways to make the material more resilient.
"RISE's packaging testing equipment is valuable to us in this project. Without their resources, we would not be able to carry out the same tests at the moment," says Atso Laakso.
RISE's Astrid Glasenapp is the consortium manager for the research project. She believes the technology has great potential to save raw materials and improve performance.
"We are unique in that we have expertise and equipment for the entire life cycle of corrugated board. It's great that Stora Enso has used our knowledge to improve its processes. If we have managed to develop something that helps them make better use of their material, it is proof that we have created innovation."
Towards a more sustainable future
The consortium's research has provided Stora Enso with knowledge that can help the company achieve its goal of increasing production efficiency and sustainability.
"RISE is a scientifically competent partner. They find the root causes and have a scientific understanding of these areas and products. Their studies give us new knowledge, which is good," says Atso Laakso.
CORRUGATED BOARD - THE WORLD'S LARGEST
Corrugated board is the world's most widely used paper material for transport packaging. Every year, enough corrugated board is produced to cover an area almost the size of Denmark. The importance of paper to commerce is invaluable in ensuring that products and goods arrive intact through sustainable materials. The sheer volume of paper used makes the corrugated industry important to the economy. In Europe alone, it employs over 100,000 people in more than 20 countries.
WHAT IS THE BIOECONOMY RESEARCH PROGRAMME?
RISE works with industry to create competitiveness based on sustainability. For example, by exploring how resources can be used more efficiently to create more value. Which in turn generates profitability.
The current programme includes 12 projects in different areas of the bio-economy. It involves 32 companies from 11 different countries.
Do you want to conduct research to increase the profitability and sustainability of your industry? The next research programme will start in 2025. Register and read more here.