By Marco Martins, MSc Science Forest and Chemical Engineering – Klabin’s Customer Technical Services Manager, Flaviana Milagres – Forest Engineer, Master and Doctor in Forest Science – Klabin’s Research and Development, Vitor Batistela – Chemical Engineer – Klabin’s Customer Technical Services Engineer. A TWM report.
Klabin has the largest softwood fluff market pulp production in the southern hemisphere since the start-up of the Puma project in 2016. A dedicated line with 470,000mt capacity, located in Ortigueira, Paraná State, Brazil, it has had the responsibility of becoming Brazil’s self-sufficient long fibre consumer producer as well as a traditional exporter of softwood in reels and bales. The 123-years of company history, associated close to 70 years of working with loblolly and slash pines to manufacture different papers such as kraftliner, sacks, liquid packaging board, among others, has enable Klabin to be present in the softwood market pulp with strong and outstanding skills on all forest, production and product application chains.
This article shows how tree breeding, industrial technology, customer tailor-made products, as well as R&D innovation and sustainability guidelines have been playing an important role as Klabin qualifies its long-fibre pulp grade for tissue paper, and also for covering specialties and the absorbent segments.
Is there any reason to have a market price difference between Pinus radiataand the famous duo, Pinus taeda (loblolly pine) and Pinus elliotti (slash pine),
planted in Brazil? If we consider the homogenous Klabin’s pine plantation, the tree breeding, the skills of Brazilian forest technicians, soil, climate/weather, environment concerns/actions, fibre morphology, etc; there is a list of characteristics that requires a different view on this market bias.
In 2020, the planted trees sector in Brazil had a total area of 9.55m hectares. The eucalyptus and pine species are 78% and 18% of the total planted area, respectively (IBÁ, 2022). Klabin imported the first pine seedlings from the US southern coast by the middle of the last century, focusing on newsprint production and later added sack kraft paper, packaging and many other kinds of papers and board.
The mild climate in the southern region (Paraná and Santa Catarina states) provides better development and adaptation, leading to the shortest cutting cycle in the world, approximately 15 years versus 25 years for the United States and Chile, for example. Among the most planted species of Pinus, in Brazil Pinus Taeda is the one that stands out, cultivated mainly in the southern region, which provides better development and adaptation. Other species of Pinus, such as Pinus Elliotti and tropical ones, have gained space and importance, representing a possibility of increasing the planted area with pine in the national territory.
1. Today’s planted pine in Klabin, and the future
Based on the edge of the recent tree breeding developments, Klabin has been improving the forest productivity of its lands as well as sharing this knowledge with farmers in a partnership process.
Pine plantations at Klabin started in the 1960’s with imported seeds. After that, a genetic improvement programme was initiated, installing trials of pine species and provenances. Nowadays the commercial forests are planted with the best families from the second and third cycle of orchards. To accelerate the operational deployment of new genetic materials, the best families are propagated in the nursery by rooted cuttings (cloning). The species planted are Pinus Taeda, Pinus Maximinoi and Pinus Caribaea var. Hondurensis, and other species and hybrids are being developed for the future plantations.
Klabin has also been studying different pine species such as the Pinus maximinoi for kraft fluff pulp production, due to unexplored studies and innovations related to fluff pulps and its relevant gains in final products as the performance in absorbent pads.
Grown in Mexico to Nicaragua, Pinus Maximinoi is classified as the second most common Pinus species that occurs in Central America and has been considered as an alternative raw material by pulp industry in tropical and subtropical regions, mainly for presenting tree volume production and yields higher than other pine species commonly used in this field. These species have shown an interesting potential for pulp mills since they develop reasonably well in other regions and maintain a good quality of the kraft cellulose pulp generated (Klock, 2004; Anoop et al., 2014; Baptista, 2019; Coelho et al., 2021).
When compared to P. Taeda, the pulp fibres from P. Maximinoi showed better results regarding morphology through larger fibre length 8%, width 9% and wall thickness 25% resulting in a coarseness 23% higher, parameters considered important for the wicking. P.Maximinoi also presented lower cut tendency in the Hammermill, contributing to better process yields in the customer’s facilities. However, due to higher coarseness, the number of fibres per milligram were reduced by 25%, which can contribute to higher empty volumes between fibres, leading to greater liquid flow inside the pads. Other properties such as burst strength and shredding energy consumption usually correlated, showed significant reductions of 17% and 24% respectively. Altogether, this study showed the feasibility of exploring new wood species for fluff pulp, especially Pinus Maximinoi, as a raw material that through its properties may contribute to the final product’s performances.
2. The Puma mill – a market pulp view
Klabin re-entered the market pulp segment in 2016 with the Puma project, composed by two separated pulp lines: 1.10m mt of eucalyptus and 0.45m mt of pine. The site now produces more than 1.6m mt and its products cover the demands of tissue papers, printing and writing, specialties (decor paper, cigarette paper, etc), packaging, nonwoven, pharmaceutical, feminine pads, diapers among other segments.
The PineCel softwood market pulp has been used mainly in tissue, coffee filter and coated (glassine/release) and packaging papers. Regarding the strength profile, it keeps a higher tear than the Pinus radiata in the beginning of refining and a continuous tensile index enhance. The number and size of porous in the coffee filter is also an important competitive advantage.
3. New markets product developments
Focusing on Klabin’s diversification, the unique characteristics of the Pinus Taeda growing in Southern Brazil allow Klabin to develop a fluff pulp that could replace all the main international producers in a very short period of qualification, assuming different categories of products (feminine pads, diapers, air laid, etc), equipment manufacturers (Fameccanica, Zuiko, JOA, GD, etc) and SAP (Super Absorbent Polymer) additive proportion.
The PineFluff, current Klabin’s kraft fluff pulp brand name, is a result of the technology of formation, pressing and drying machine sections (Valmet and Klabin’s engineering and technical expertise) in a greenfield fluff concept project. Cooking and bleaching steps give the process stability to produce a homogeneous product with a potential higher-than-average brightness, thickness and dryness stability profile, as well as with a rewinding area ready to produce reels with different width and diameter.
4. Research and Development
Klabin has invested more than $19m in facilities and equipment that promote technical conditions to create many potential products, such as: treated fluff pulps, blend of fibres, odour control, TCF bleaching, tissue and fibre cement grade, talc free, among other pulp specialties.
5. Klabin Fluff Pulp Untreated Grade: PineFluff
The untreated PineFluff is a result of a long study covering a deep benchmarking project that takes into consideration fluff products offered by North American producers, mainly and specific demands coming from potential buyers at the absorbent global producers such as Kimberly-Clark, Unicharm, Essity, Drylock, Ontex, Procter & Gamble, Fitesa, Johnson & Johnson, etc.
Investment in the visual characteristics of width, diameter and wrapping were made, different from the paper grade, which requires a standard dimension and received a disintegration in a hydrapulper instead of a dry defibreising at hammermill that demands a deep control of moisture and thickness of the pulp reel.
Klabin is committed to market pulp diversity and differentiation. The focus on tissue is mainly dedicated in the eucalyptus pulp (LyptusCel), working on global demands, which includes the talc removal, circularity mega trend, investment on delignification and a very clean and homogeneous product.
The softwood pulp (PineCel) takes advantage of this technical approach and has been used not only in the sanitary, towel and other tissue application, but also a range of applications such as packaging, printing and writing and specialties (release, coffee and automobile paper, etc).
In terms of the absorbent segment, untreated PineFluff is considered a standard product which fulfills this niche, but increasingly this grade is also being used in the airlaid/nonwoven market (acquisition layer, diaper top sheet, etc), while the fully treated grades are a reality in the baby wipes too. Nowadays, considering the LyptusCel talc free pulp and the PineFluff treated, Klabin’s specialties are more than 10% out of 1.6m tonnes.
There is plenty of room to offer new products to all markets, from the paper to the absorbent. The next steps in R&D should include an odour control pulp, mainly to the absorbent products, and a tissue pulp grade (eucalyptus) with additional strength improvement.
There is also potential to offer a specific market pulp with a fibre mix (pine and eucalyptus) pattern/benefits to the tissue market. It could require a partnership with paper producers aiming to identify the impacts on refining disc design (long and short fibre altogether in different proportions) and tissue paper quality formation demand.
All lab tests were performed at Klabin’s Technology Centre.
This article was written for TWM by Marco Martins, MSc Science Forest and Chemical Engineering – Klabin’s Customer Technical Services Manager, Flaviana Milagres – Forest Engineer, Master and Doctor in Forest Science – Klabin’s Research and Development, Vitor Batistela – Chemical Engineer – Klabin’s Customer Technical Services Engineer.