Nordic pulp firms see future in turning birch trees into fashion

Mon Mar 14, 2016 3:17am EDT
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By Anna Ringstrom

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Nordic pulp makers are developing clean ways to turn birch and pine trees into clothes or sofa covers to help revive their industry and meet demand from fashion and furniture firms for alternative textiles to cotton.

There has been no Nordic production of viscose, the main textile fiber from timber, since the last manufacturer stopped nearly a decade ago, partly on environmental grounds.

But a 2011 spike in cotton prices contributed to increased global demand for viscose and lyocell, the other major textile fiber from wood pulp. Production is dominated by Austria's Lenzing, India's Aditya Birla and China's Sateri.

Three Nordic mills export dissolving pulp, the product that can be turned into textile fiber. The industry would like to see textile fiber factories set up at home that will meet environmental rules and appeal to local firms such as IKEA and Hennes & Mauritz which want to project a green image.

"We have the forest here in the Nordics, we have our pulp mills. It would be better for us if more dissolving pulp was needed in our region," said Markus Mannstrom, chief technical officer of Finland's Stora Enso. The forestry industry, which accounts for a fifth of Finland's and a tenth of Sweden's exports, has been hit by lower newsprint demand and foreign competition. But global output of pulp for textiles is expected to grow 30 percent by 2020 from 4.4 million tonnes in 2015, according to Oliver Lansdell at forest products industry consultancy Hawkins Wright.

Anticipating the rise in demand, in 2011 Sodra, the Swedish association of 50,000 small forest owners, converted a paper pulp machine so they could make textile pulp. Stora Enso did the same in 2012.

Sweden's Domsjo, which has made dissolving pulp since the 1930's and was bought by Aditya Birla in 2011, said demand has risen.

"We expect cotton output to peak while textile demand will keep growing," said Dag Benestad, head of dissolving pulp production at Sodra.   Continued...

Researcher Fredrik Aldaeus shows a new textile fibre made from wood in the research institute Innventia's laboratory in Stockholm, Sweden, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Anna Ringstrom