LCA4Climate Research

Improving packaging: a multidisciplinary contribution

Photo: Freepik (efe_madrid)

UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF and the University of Girona have conducted joint research in nanotechnology and the circular economy in the paper sector. Now, the results of the study have been published as a scientific paper in the prestigious Journal of Cleaner Production.

Recently, the scientific publication Journal of Cleaner Production has published the article Techno-economic and environmental evaluation of a market pulp reinforced with micro-/nanofibers as a strengthening agent in packaging paper, the outcome of the collaboration between the research group of the Laboratori de Materials Sostenibles i Disseny del Producte, LEPAMAPPRODIS, of the University of Girona (Ferran Serra-Parareda, Roberto Aguado and Marc Delgado-Aguilar), and the UNESCO Chair of ESCI-UPF, both in the environmental (Sergi Arfelis and Pere Fullana) and economic (Ramon Xifré) aspects. In addition, the article has been presented at the Ibero-American Congress on Pulp and Paper Research 2022 (CIADICYP-2022).

The article summarizes the results of a study evaluating the technical, economic and environmental feasibility of incorporating lignocellulosic micro/nanofibers into brown line recycled paper manufacturing processes. This technology has not yet been applied satisfactorily to the paper industry, mainly due to the energy demand involved in its manufacture and application, as well as the impact generated by its transport, as they usually occur in large quantities of water. (95 – 98%). The main idea of ​​the work was to apply the concept of masterbatch, widely implemented in the plastics processing industry, to the paper industry. In this sense, the work proposes to produce pastes highly concentrated in micro/nanofibers lignocellulosic to be later incorporated in recycled paper.

Environmentally, the main advantage of the new technology is a significant saving in the amount of water needed for the production of the sheets, as a very important part of the water used can be recovered. Therefore, according to circularity criteria, the new method is an important step forward. The new process may involve marginally higher energy consumption; however, there are several possible strategies to alleviate these increased consumptions. One is the replacement of the combined cycle by renewable energy sources.

Economically, the most important gain lies in the savings in transportation costs due to the greater lightness of the material produced with the new technology. This means that a shipping container can carry more material and the profits also extend to the entire distribution logistics network. It should be noted that in recent times, prior to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the cost of shipping had already skyrocketed (see here). The war of recent weeks and its economic repercussions suggest an even higher cost of transport and, from this point of view, gains in logistical efficiency become even more critical. However, the CO2 impact of the proposal is also much lower than in the conventional case.

The article shows how necessary and productive the collaboration of different specialities or fields of knowledge is to be able to achieve tangible improvements in processes and products. From the very conception of the project, innovation and improvement take place in the three dimensions covered by the project: technical, environmental and economic. This suggests that multidisciplinary collaboration will be increasingly essential to move towards global circularity and efficiency.

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