With new manufacturing technologies and raw materials, it is now possible to manufacture products from wood fibre that have plastic-like properties. This autumn, a new VTT spin-off, Paptic, launched the commercialisation of plastic-like carrier bags that are manufactured from wood.
New environmentally friendly innovations are in great demand: the oceans and their inhabitants suffer from plastic debris, which is returning to our food chain through fish and other marine animals. Research data suggests that up to 90% of sea-birds have eaten plastic. The EU is aiming to reduce the amount of plastic carrier bags by introducing a new packaging waste directive. Many countries around the world have already introduced a charge or a ban to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags. For example, California became the first state in the US to ban plastic bags.
“The market opportunities for our wood-based bioeconomy innovation are huge. Consumers in Europe use more than 100 billion plastic bags every year. Globally, they are used at a rate of one million bags per minute,” says Paptic’s Managing Director Tuomas Mustonen.
At the moment, 70% of the material used in PAPTIC bags is biobased, mostly wood fibre. The material is recyclable.
“We aim to make the bags 100% biobased and also plan to use recycled materials in our products.”
The manufacturing of the PAPTIC material has started on a small scale this autumn at the KCL pilot plant in Espoo. Commercial-scale manufacturing will start in 2016. The company is currently looking for value chain partners for testing industrial manufacturing and commercial cooperation.
The PAPTIC product was launched in early November at the SLUSH investor event in Helsinki, and the first products will be available in early 2016. The company is currently in talks about pilot batches with Finnish, German and British companies. These will act as a proof-of-concept for the compatibility of PAPTIC technology with the value and delivery chain of plastic bags from raw materials to the consumer.
Finnish softwood kraft pulp – the main ingredient
Foam forming is one of the key technologies used in the manufacture of PAPTIC. It enables the manufacture of fibre products with less energy and water. Materials manufactured by form foaming are well formed, or very even, allowing the use of a wider base of raw materials than traditional paper products, further allowing the introduction of new qualities in wood-based products.
“The main raw material of PAPTIC is wood-based fibre: certified Finnish softwood kraft pulp. It is also possible to use recycled fibres,” Mustonen says.
VTT’s expertise and facilities in foam forming have created a platform for Paptic. Karita Kinnunen-Raudaskoski is among the first research scientists to focus on foam forming at VTT and is responsible for product development and technology at Paptic.
Combining the best qualities of paper and plastic
PAPTIC is a biobased material that is durable and flexible and withstands moisture. Lightweight and flexible, PAPTIC carrier bags take significantly less storage and delivery space than paper bags. Carrier bags must have load and point load strength, and both of these requirements have been taken into account during the development of PAPTIC. Existing plastic bag manufacturing machines can be used to convert the material into carrier bags. This is possible because the material can be heat sealed.
The soft surface of PAPTIC carrier bags resembles canvas bags. The product helps brands to reinforce the environmentally friendly image of their stores and products.
New use for paper machines
Paptic is manufacturing the first fibre materials with the KCL foam forming-ready paper machine in Otaniemi in Espoo. The company is currently in the process of finding forestry partners and the next step is to subcontract manufacturing to their paper mills.
“This partner model is a great opportunity for paper and board plants to increase their utilisation rate with new value-add products and to create new bioeconomy-based business,” Mustonen says.
“To commercialise the material, we work in cooperation with the entire delivery and value chain – all the way to the consumer. We want to provide material that is designed with consumers’ needs in mind and that can be more easily recycled than those currently available on the market.”
Plastic bag ban sparked the idea
Paptic’s establishment was inspired by signals from the market indicating that the use of plastic bags is in the process of being banned.
“At VTT, we decided to see what we could come up with as an alternative,” Mustonen explains.
“We took the first concrete step about a year ago when we manufactured the first prototypes of the PAPTIC carrier bags and invited the markets to provide feedback on them. We asked store owners whether they would be prepared to start using wood-based products instead of plastic bags. The bags were well received and we were happy to see that there was a market for the product.”
“My previous role at VTT involved selling research projects to companies. It is very interesting and motivating to gain first-hand experience of what commercialising a technology is like and what it takes on the entrepreneur side. We work in close cooperation with VTT, which is by far our most important R&D partner.”
Paptic is a Finnish start-up company that was founded in April 2015. Carrier bags are the first product application of the material manufacturer. The PAPTIC material is currently manufactured at the KCL pilot paper mill in Espoo.
The spin-off builds on the R&D carried out at VTT. It focuses on sustainable technologies as well as the sales and marketing of renewable and recyclable wood-based products.
Paptic aims to bring a new plastic-like PAPTIC fibre material to markets in 2016.
The company raised a seed investment round of EUR 1.1 million in April.
In addition to the founding partners Tuomas Mustonen, Karita Kinnunen-Raudaskoski and Esa Torniainen, investors include Proxy Ventures, Besodos Investors, VTT Ventures and individual investors
Founding members of Paptic: Esa Torniainen, Karita Kinnunen-Raudaskoski and Tuomas Mustonen.