Young researchers link passive houses and waste materials to the paper industry

Passive houses could benefit from insulation materials made of recycled paper. And stems from tomato plants in agriculture are no longer waste when mixed with fibers in the paper mill. Last week, at the (CEPI) European Paper Week in Brussels, 11 young researchers from across Europe presented promising paper innovations reflecting current societal developments.

The future of the paper industry is often challenged. But it’s a mistake to exclude the material from the transition to an energy-efficient society. The construction sector, for example, is served with foam-formed materials for insulation madeyoung researchers of close to 100% papermaking fibers, even recyled papers. This is highly appealing to inhabitants of sustainable districts. “We have foam-formed different fibers and raw materials to adjust the thickness of flat paper, aiming at acoustic and thermal use”, explained senior researcher Tiina Pöhler from VTT in Helsinki. “The thermal effectiveness of the demonstrator material is already competing with glass wool.” Even though more research is needed for issues like fire safety and the manufacturing process, the first results were called ‘convincing and promising’.

 Spyros Bousios and Joana Mendes on the left

Life-cycle analysis
Spyros Bousios from Kenniscentrum Papier en Karton in the Netherlands presented a trial with the greenhouse horticulture, stressing the added value of linking different sectors. The stem of the tomato plant itself is re-used for packaging, when mixed with fibers in the paper making process (addition of the tomato stems up to 20%). This appealing story needs further investigation to scale up, and the key benefits so far are mainly the producers’ reduced composting costs. However, this example proves the breakthrough opportunities for raw materials used in paper applications, far beyond wood.

Joana Mendes from Innovhub SSI in Italy, who presented solutions for antibacterial applications in food packaging, stressed the broader context of reducing waste of food and as such the life-cycle analysis. Some of the researchers at the Paper Week do not even think in terms of paper any longer, rather in the circular economy, a new generation of plastics or the biobased industry. They all agreed that functionality is the key in new paper innovations. “Our raw material is already 100% green”, said Bousios.

Raw Materials is one of the 5 key innovation areas identified by the European Commission, just as Smart Cities and Communities.