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Recarbonization: A EUR 40 Billion Opportunity for the Forest Industry

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A new Point of View report by Pöyry (Finland) calls for a recarbonization revolution of global material flows, moving carbon back into place stored in the earth, representing a multi-billion euro business opportunity for the forest-based industries. Moving just 1% of global business in packaging, plastics, and fossil based material flows would equate to roughly EUR 40 billion in annual revenue for the sustainable economy, while also helping the world tackle climate change.

To give an idea of the opportunity possible through recarbonization, the report applies a modest 1% transition to some core markets:
  • Packaging: moving 1% of the packaging market from fossil plastics to biopackaging equates to EUR 6 billion in turnover.
  • Plastics: moving 1% from fossil plastics to bioplastics equates to about EUR 3.5 billion of new biobusiness.
  • Material flow: substitute 1% of the global volume of fossil fuels with biomass, and process that biomass further in the forest industry would equate to roughly EUR 30 billion of annual new biobusiness.
The recarbonization revolution details how the world is facing the profound issue of climate change and, at the same time, witnessing new developments in technology and materials sciences. This convergence makes the recarbonization revolution both desirable and possible.

Quantifying the exact benefits of biobased solutions and recarbonization is complicated but environmentally a renewable biobased solution beats a fossil-fuel-based one. The carbon in recarbonized flows is CO2-neutral as part of a closed loop, as long as the loop functions well. As an example of the potential carbon savings possible through recarbonization, eliminating plastic bags globally would reduce the equivalent of the U.K.’s total annual CO2 emissions by 5%.

Petri Vasara, head of biofutures at Pöyry and author of the report, said that "recarbonisation is already a global business with a turnover in the tens of billions of euros and major players across the globe. For example, where the old Airbus A340 consisted of about 10% composites, the new A350 is made of more than 50% – this gives an idea of the potential for new biocomposites.

"Despite this growth however, the exact roles of players remain unclear and the rules are still being determined. We are all now in the process and are able to influence what is going to happen. There is room for many winners in the recarbonization revolution as companies are only now organizing the complex value chains. A simplified value chain for recarbonization starts with biomass, such as wood and waste, and ends with the consumer interacting with the brand... In fact recarbonization in materials is very much driven by brands, as the pull of a brand promise is a powerful incentive for the whole value chain, such as IKEA’s promise to have 100% renewable or recycled plastic in its products by 2020," Varasa explained.

Four material platforms stand out as examples of the possibilities of recarbonization: lignin, sugar, nanocellulose, and graphene. The first three are carbon-based and graphene is pure carbon. Together they have the potential to radically change the materials world. When lignin, sugar, nanocellulose, and graphene are mixed with each other and/or other materials into biocomposites, there is a great deal of possibilities in materials production.
 

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