Bio-based foam to replace oil-based foams in packaging

Bio-based foams can replace polymer foams not only in packaging, but also in sports equipment, thermal insulation for shipments and as a growth medium in soil-free farming, for example. Photo: Stora Enso
Metsäbiotalouden tulevaisuuskuvasto / Forest Bioeconomy Future Catalogue

Stora Enso has developed a lightweight, fibre-based foam material for protection and cushioning in packaging. Materials which can be replaced by the Cellufoam material include conventional oil-based packaging foams, such as foamed polyethylene (EPE) and expanded polystyrene (EPS).

Stora Enso is constructing a pilot plant for the new material at its Fors mill in Sweden, which produces paperboards for packaging. The raw material used is bleached softwood pulp made from Swedish pine and spruce. Other pulp grades may be considered later.

There are only a limited number of bio-based alternatives for protective and cushioning foams made of fossil materials, says Satu Härkönen, Head of Communications for Stora Enso in Finland.

The bio foam is recyclable through existing systems for recycling paper and paperboard. ‘As Cellufoam is a fibre-based material, it is also biodegradable and compostable,’ Härkönen adds.

To begin with, the new material will be used to replace the oil-based polymer foams now widely used in the protective packaging of fragile products, such as consumer electronics.

The demand for sturdy packaging materials in several markets and for many types of products is increasing. However, bio-based foams can replace polymer foams in sports equipment, thermal insulation for shipments and as a growth medium in soil-free farming, to name a few areas.

Using bio-based materials, businesses can increase recycling, reduce plastic waste and also otherwise achieve their environmental goals, without giving up on high-quality packaging, says Markus Mannström, Executive Vice President of Stora Enso’s Biomaterials division.

The pilot plant is scheduled to be completed during the fourth quarter of 2021. Once operational, the plant may be used by prospective customers to test the applicability of Cellufoam for their purposes. At the same time, Stora Enso will gain information on how to improve its production process.

Decisions about commercialisation will be made after the results of the pilot project are evaluated.

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