Ambitious sustainability goals require disruptive concept

Bioeconomy - Quo vadis interview series asks on plans, solutions, and challenges

VDMA printing and paper technology: ambitious sustainability goals require disruptive concept.

Dr Michael Weiss, vice president of Business and Research at Voith, Heidenheim, talks about sustainable use of resources, the desire for stringent, reliable framework conditions, and new technologies.

Which technologies do you use to support the transformation towards a circular bioeconomy?

As a full-line supplier, Voith Paper provides holistic and customer-oriented solutions from a single source, for an efficient and sustainable papermaking process. With the XcelLine paper machines, Voith offers efficient papermaking for every paper grade, and with the innovative BlueLine stock preparation products, customers benefit from maximum efficiency and raw material yield. The digitalization solutions from our Papermaking 4.0 portfolio are playing an increasingly important role in papermaking to maximize resource efficiency and plant availability. The wide range of consumables and spare parts that Voith supplies to the paper industry also makes an important contribution to the lowest energy consumption, high machine efficiency and plant availability.

In your opinion, what are the current challenges along the way to more sustainable paper production and how can mechanical engineering help?

There are several factors to be mentioned here, and they all need to be seen in the context of high-cost pressure on paper manufacturers. One very important factor is the availability and quality of the raw material for paper production, i.e., the cellulose fibres and the recycled paper. In Europe, the recycling rate is already at a very high level. Such high recycling rates require a preparation of the recovered paper that is particularly gentle on the fibres, for example, to maintain the strength potential of the raw material. Such technologies and solutions will continue to gain importance as the recycling rate increases since the quality of the raw material and high-quality stock preparation strongly influence the overall economy and efficiency of the papermaking process. With our BlueLine stock preparation, Voith offers the world’s most resource-conserving process concept on the market.

Another factor is to minimize water consumption in paper production. Here, we have made great progress in the past decades by closing the production water cycles step-by-step. This year, Voith and Meri presented AquaLine Zero, a forward-looking water management concept with a completely closed water cycle. All water used in paper production is cleaned by an in-house purification system with state-of-the-art treatment technology and is fed back into production as recycled water in a resource-saving manner. This means that no process water is discharged from the paper mill and the actual freshwater consumption is reduced to only about 1.5 litres per kilogram of paper produced.

Decarbonization will pose major challenges for paper producers and other industries in the coming years and decades. The Green Deal adopted by the EU envisages carbon neutrality in the EU by 2050, and greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 55% by 2030, measured against 1990 emission levels. To achieve the ambitious carbon reduction targets in the paper industry, disruptive concepts and novel approaches are needed in addition to the continuous development of existing technologies. The development and implementation of these concepts and technologies are part of our sustainability strategy at Voith.

Are the challenges in your industry different regionally or the same globally?

Sustainability, decarbonization, and the associated changes in our industry are global developments. For example, the Chinese government has also declared its goal of being carbon neutral by 2060, and the US, under new political leadership, has rejoined the Paris climate agreement. However, these developments towards a sustainable bioeconomy are most advanced in Europe.

The leading industrial nations want to achieve climate neutrality by the middle of the century. Do we need political support for the bioeconomy? If so, what do you specifically expect from policymakers?

It is the task of politicians to create clear framework conditions and make reliable decisions in order to provide investment security for all players in the markets and along the value chain. This is necessary in order to successfully implement the transformation towards a circular bioeconomy and, at the same time, to further increase the profitability and competitiveness of paper producers. Another important point will be to pave the way for the further expansion of renewable energies. In this context, the necessary infrastructure, such as transport networks and storage systems, must also be promoted. In addition, the development and market introduction of low-carbon-emission production technologies should be supported and accelerated.

What role does the topic of sustainable use of resources play in your research and development?

The trend toward sustainable papermaking, and in particular the decarbonization of the papermaking process, already play a very important role in Voith’s research and development and are a central pillar of Voith’s strategy. Important focus areas here include reducing energy and water consumption in the papermaking process, further increasing the recycling rate, and improving raw material yield and quality. In addition, new fields of application for the raw material paper and cellulose fibres are being developed, for example as a sustainable substitute for mineral oil-based packaging solutions. Other important criteria and development goals are the further expansion of digitalization and the continuous improvement of the cost and resource efficiency of our machinery and equipment portfolio.

Voith played a key role in the founding of Modellfabrik Papier gGmbH and is now one of 17 partner companies from the paper manufacturing and its supplier industry. The primary goal of this initiative is to identify and research approaches to make the entire papermaking process climate-neutral and sustainable. Through innovative and disruptive research approaches, the goal is to save 80% of the energy required in the papermaking process. With a view to further closing material cycles, Voith is involved in another cross-industry initiative: the 4evergreen Alliance. The goal of this initiative is to increase the recycling rate of fibre-based packaging to 90% by 2030.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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