Pining for Change- New Sustainable Gum Rosin Processing is Changing Market Dynamics
Friday, December 5, 2014
Plantation system, hybrid trees are increasing production and stabilizing costs
By David Savastano, Editor Published December 4, 2014 - Ink World
Gum rosin has been one of the most volatile ingredients for inks, adhesives, paper and rubber industries. Prices rose more than 300% a few years back, reaching $2400 per ton, which has a dramatic impact on offset ink costs.
The ink industry uses approximately 30% of the rosin resin that is produced globally. Adhesives use 40%, and the paper and rubber industries use approximately 10% each.
According to the Pine Chemicals Association (PCA), in terms of global rosin production, 70% is gum rosin, and 30% is tall oil. Gum rosin is distilled from resin that is tapped from trees. In the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. was the largest producer of gum rosin, but China and the Asia-Pacific region as well as Latin America are now the largest gum rosin producers due to their lower labor costs. There is no gum rosin being produced in the U.S.
Tall oil is the liquid by-product from trees that are chipped and pulped. U.S. manufacturers, led by Arizona Chemical, fractionate 800,000 to 900,000 tons of crude tall oil in the U.S., and about 100,000 ton of CTO is exported.
Charles Morris, president of the Pine Chemicals Association, said that new processing methods for gum rosin are having a major impact on the market, and these changes are much more sustainable. This is critical, as volatile prices disrupt customers.
“Any market with large swings in pricing is dangerous,” Morris said. “People look to alternatives, and that isn’t healthy.
“In the last five to 10 years, there has been a lot of work being done on changing the way gum rosin is collected,” Morris added. “There is a more modern approach being created, mechanizing production and planting plantation forests for producing gum resins. More importantly, there is work being done primarily in Brazil with faster-growing hybrid trees that yield more gum resin.”
According to Morris, harvesting a naturally grown pine tree throughout the year will gather two kilograms of gum rosin. The new hybrid trees range from six kilograms to eight kilograms annually, which makes for increased production and less labor.
The plantation system is also making a difference. In a forest with difficult terrain and dense underbrush, a worker can harvest 1,500 to 2,000 trees. In a plantation, that number increases to 7,000 to 10,000 trees in a year.
Morris said that there is more research being conducted to increase the yield.
“Researchers at the University of Florida are also working on genetic changes that can increase the flow of the sap in the tree,” he noted. “All of this allows the worker and the company to make more money, and is changing the face of the industry.”
While these new methods are more profitable, they are also more sustainable, which makes it a win-win situation. Where a mature forest needs to be replanted every 10 to 12 years at best, the plantation trees will need to be replanted every 20 years.
“Forest stewardship is far more serious now,” Morris said. “New hybrid trees can be tapped after six years, and can continue to be tapped for resin for up to 20 years before they are made into lumber.”
To help the industry utilize these new practices, the PCA plans to start educational seminars on the new technologies and practices
“The plantation system is now standard practice in Brazil, and is starting in China,” Morris said. “There is a real possibility for plantation forests in the U.S. It will occur slowly, but it could happen. As a result, the continuity of supply for gum rosin will improve.
“The bottom line is that pine tree tapping is moving from a cottage industry to modern forestry management and resin harvesting,” Morris concluded. “This will stabilize supply and make it a solid, sustainable industry in the future.”
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