New technology for measuring the smallest components of wood pulp could make paper and paperboard production more efficient

In the paper and packaging industry, having control of the smallest components in the wood pulp is important for the efficiency of the manufacturing process and the properties of the finished products. A doctoral project within the Industrial Graduate School, Resource-Smart Processes, is currently developing a method that allows the industry to capitalise on this. The goal is smarter and more resource-efficient paper and cardboard production.

Even the micro-level and nano-level components of the tree are important in paper and board manufacturing. These components are naturally present in wood pulp and are also generated as a part of the production process. They have an impact on the efficiency of the chemicals added during production and the properties of the final products. Through better means for characterising these components, preferably in real-time during processing, it is possible to produce paper and packaging materials of more consistent quality using less raw material. In turn, this also reduces the energy required for their production.

Zahra Baneen, KTH. Photo: Johan Olsson.

The industry is well aware of this and has traditionally controlled the presence of these components by e.g. refining of the wood pulp. As a recent development, these micro- and nanoscale components have been produced separately and added to the process. However, what is missing is the know-how and the methods for optimising their use. Zahra Baneen’s doctoral project within Resource-Smart Processes is aimed at developing a technical solution that allows the industry to measure the presence of these components in the pulp in real-time, thereby optimising both the process and the end product.

– Currently, the industry measures the content of the pulp at the fibre level but lacks the equipment to measure constituents at the micro and nanoscale. The goal of my project is to develop a technique that can supplement the industry’s current measuring equipment in order to improve process knowledge and to control paper and cardboard production so that it becomes smarter and more resource-efficient, says Zahra Baneen.

New field of application with benefits for the industry

The doctoral project is a further development of the advances in research made in recent years at the Wallenberg Wood Science Centre. There, researchers have developed techniques for measuring and analysing this type of material, which requires very high resolution.

– The technology has been developed primarily to contribute to developing new forest-based materials, but this project provides a new area of application with direct benefits for the industry. Making the method even more advanced is not the idea, but instead simplifying it so that it meets the requirements for speed and repeatability and can be integrated into industrial processes, says Zahra’s research supervisor Daniel Söderberg, professor in fibre processes at the Department of Fibre and Polymer Technology at KTH.

Wants to create good conditions for process research

Anders Brolin, Director vid Group Innovation and R&D  Stora Enso, Zahra Baneen, KTH and Daniel Söderberg, professor KTH. Photo: Johan Olsson.

The four-year doctoral project within the Industrial Graduate School will soon reach halfway, and to date, the method has been tested in a lab environment. The next step is to move on to progressively more advanced tests in an industrial context and, by the end of the project, to have a method that can be taken further by industry stakeholders.

– Increasing our knowledge of these components also increases our ability to direct the process towards the desired quality and more consistent product properties. Specifically, this type of technical solution has the potential to streamline the use of functional chemicals. Consequently, it has the potential to contribute to reducing costs and improve sustainability, says Anders Brolin, Director of Group Innovation and R&D at Stora Enso. He continues:

– On a wider scale, Stora Enso is involved in the Industrial Graduate School to help create favourable conditions for process technology research at Swedish universities. This is important for both the forest and the chemical industries from a recruitment perspective. Swedish universities are at the forefront of research into new materials and chemicals from the forest, but further efforts are needed to increase understanding of industrial production. Strengthening the development of efficient manufacturing processes is important in order to avoid risking that the research results never leaves the university laboratories.

Attracted to industry-driven research

Zahra Baneen earned her bachelor’s degree in physics at Lund University and went on to study the master’s programme in Polymer Science at the Technical University of Berlin. At the same time, she gained professional experience in the industry.

– When I applied for this doctoral position in the Industrial Research School, it felt important and positive that I could continue with industry-related research. The Business School is a platform where you interact a lot with other students and teachers, but you also regularly meet the industry and ensure the relevance of your project, Zahra concludes.

Read more about the Industrial Graduate School.