The workshop for “Opportunities and Challenges in the Utilization of Alternative Fibers: A Sourcing, Environmental, Economic and Policy Discussion” was convened as an interactive discussion of alternative fiber sourcing and conversion technology, environmental and economic impacts from non-forest fiber generation and use, and the policy and regulatory issues of alternative fibers. Workshop experts from government, universities, NGOs, and the public sector participated to discuss and identify the implications of large-scale use of alternative fibers.
Roger Sedjo, Director, Resources for the Future
Georgia Tech’s core industry research center of the Institute of Paper Science and Technology (IPST) hosted this gathering of thought leaders to provide new and valuable insights for those involved in the production of alternative fiber based products. The Workshop supports IPST’s mission of providing world class research and knowledge to the fiber based industry. Kimberly-Clark supported and participated in the workshop to further their understanding of alternative fiber sustainability as part of a commitment to achieve a 50% reduction in their use of wood fiber from natural forests by the year 2025.
Recommendations were compiled by the workshop organizers based on the discussion and do not specifically represent the opinion of the group or participants in whole or part.
- Technical Perspectives
- Existing pulp suppliers may be able to meet some alternative fiber requirements. There are possible co-pulping and blended pulp products that could meet fiber objectives, but there are technical and supply challenges that must be addressed. It is possible to develop blended fiber pulps with improved performance properties.
- There are technical challenges to pulping bamboo and other alternative fibers. Capital investment is likely required to accommodate new fiber sources in existing pulping operations. Research and development will be required to address fiber production and performance challenges.
- Research may lead to a modified southern softwood fiber that performs as the currently preferred northern softwood.
- Fiber Availability and Sourcing
- Paper industry demand for alternative fiber is relatively small as compared to forecasted energy crop demand. There is an opportunity to leverage the developing energy crops as an alternative fiber source for paper products. Energy crop development and availability is forecasted to increase substantially. Pulp manufacturers should focus on these crops as alternative fiber sources.
- Alternative pulp fiber sources are potentially a small part of a land use system that could support alternative fuels, biopower sources, food sources, solid wood resources, and other societal needs. As a small user of materials in this diverse marketplace, fiber raw material prices could be heavily influenced by other demand such as alternative fuels. Multiple studies have suggested that meeting alternative fuel requirements under the RFS2 mandate could drive prices for biomass raw materials into the range of $50-$70 per ton. Alternative fiber sources that avoid competition with biofuels or potentially work in conjunction with biofuels to maximize resource value could be attractive.
- Environmental and Economic Considerations
Matt Langholtz, Bioenergy Resource & Engineering Systems, ORNL
Life cycle assessment and other site specific studies (such as those used by Catchlight) should be used to help quantify the environmental benefits and drawbacks of potential alternative fibers relative to existing conventional material options. Understanding of carbon balances will be important, but the science and methodology in this space is currently unsettled.
- Invasive species are clearly not consistent with a sustainable strategy for alternative fibers, but this message has not been developed and communicated well.
- Production of alternative fiber can have positive economic effects for rural communities.
- To succeed in improving fiber cost volatility, a paper producer may have to be flexible in use of various alternative fiber sources.
- Policy and Social Opportunities
- National policy is most likely to continue to focus on alternative fuels. Fiber policy is more likely to be developed at the State level. Policies, like the biomass crop assistance program (BCAP), could potentially be applied to fiber production.
- Development of alternative fibers involves multiple stakeholder perspectives: landowner, grower, existing industry, regional economic development, competition with fuels, food and solid wood applications, pulping industry infrastructure, environmental and conservation organizations, and many others. Continued open dialogue on these topics will be important for maximizing the beneficial outcomes while minimizing the drawbacks.
- There do not appear to be significant socio-economic or policy obstacles to adoption of alternative fibers.
- We do not foresee policy measures as a significant obstacle to or incentive for the adoption of alternative fibers. Alternative fiber for pulp and paper does not have significant bearing on national interests; there are no national interests at stake. If there were a large scale move from forest products to other fiber sources, there could be national scale policy efforts to identify and develop alternative economic opportunities. In particular, in Canada there are efforts to develop new economic activity in the forest products area. These types of policy activities need not have either positive or negative impact on the potential for alternative fiber pulp production.
- There is an opportunity to further communicate the positive impacts from alternative fiber sourcing. Public awareness and understanding of alternative fiber sourcing should be heightened, and the positive impacts of increasing alternative fiber production and use advocated more strongly.
Further information on the workshop and/or the resources at IPST-Georgia Tech that can assist you in life cycle analyses (LCA) or exploring the challenges of investigating alternative fibers can be found by contacting Dr Norman Marsolan at email@example.com.