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From Forests to Factories, Innovation Drives Pine Chemicals Industry

Wednesday, July 15, 2015  
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From Forests to Factories, Innovation Drives Pine Chemicals Industry

 

By Charles Morris

 

The pine chemicals industry has long used biorenewable feedstocks to produce key materials used by a variety of manufacturers, including the nearly $30 billion dollar flavors and fragrances industry. These feedstocks are derived by tapping pine trees in the forest as well as from the papermaking industry. From forests, gum oleoresin is collected and when processed gum turpentine is produced. In paper mills, crude sulfate turpentine (CST) is collected during the pulping process, then sent to bio refineries where it is separated by complex fractionation into its pure terpene components for further processing. Terpenes from both sources are converted to a wide array of downstream value add products used by makers of flavors, fragrance and food and beverage products.

 

While one process occurs in a natural setting and the other in an industrial setting, they share two elements that are highly valued in today’s marketplace: sustainable practices and focused innovation. Putting both of these traits in practice can set companies apart from competitors. 

 

Tapping in Transition

Tapping pine trees for resin goes back hundreds of years, when pine tar was used to caulk ships. Since the 1920s and ‘30s, the collection of oleoresin has been done through a subsistence-based model: individuals working for themselves in communally owned forests, for low wages, without any mechanization or safety equipment. In some emerging nations, this is still the case.

 

This model has proved problematic, as many farmers who collect oleoresin have chosen to leave the forests for better-paying jobs in cities, causing labor shortages and lost productivity. In addition, inefficient forestry management practices have reduced resin output and, in certain cases, threaten the survival of the forests themselves. These issues have motivated industry players to develop new strategies to ensure the market’s steady growth and sustainability.

 

Over the last several decades the industry has begun to develop more efficient use of natural resources. Hybrid pine trees have been developed that yield four to six times more oleoresin per tree, and plantation planting allows far more efficient and mechanized collection of the gum base. Additionally, improved tapping techniques are making the harvesting of the oleoresin more efficient.

 

In addition, living laboratories— in forest plantations—have been utilized for genetic experimentation aimed at increasing oleoresin production. The University of Florida has some very promising experiments ongoing.

 

 

Evolving the Business Model

These scientific and operational advancements have helped the industry move steadily from a subsistence-based model to an “agribusiness” model. Today many gum resin companies today are planting their own fast-growing forests with hybrid trees that take only six to eight years to reach maturity, compared with 15-20 years in a natural forest. Managed nurseries are supplying these new hybrid trees to assure the sustainability of the new plantation forests.

 

Many formerly independent pine tappers now work for companies that run the pine plantations. The workers receive a competitive salary, personal protective equipment, safety training, and access to modern tools and trucks. These advancements have led to increased productivity: One worker can tap 7,000-10,000 trees each year, compared to 1,500-2,000 trees tapped in a native forest.

 

Many of the new concepts are being incorporated around the world. But it will take some years before this very old industry fully evolves. Next year, the Pine Chemicals Association will host a Global Symposium on “Best practices in forestry management and oleoresin production” in Lisbon, Portugal, featuring experts and producers from around the world to discuss evolving technologies to improve the efficiency and sustainability of oleoresin recovery and processing.

 

Industrial Best Practices

In addition to the improvements in gum turpentine production, terpenes produced from the recovery of crude sulfate turpentine (CST), which is recovered during the pulping process in paper mills, has also become more efficient due to state-of-the-art best practices adopted in the last several years. Our association offers annual educational courses on recovery techniques and technology that are well attended by operators, engineers and pulp mill managers from around the world.

 

On a global basis, manufacturers operate high efficiency bio refineries to separate and further process terpene products derived from both gum turpentine and from CST. These plants are continuously innovating to improve operating efficiency and to develop improved products.

 

Constant Innovation

This spirit of innovation and cooperation not only ensures steady supplies of gum turpentine and CST, it leads to less price fluctuation and greater flexibility so that pine chemicals manufacturers can quickly adjust to the ever-changing needs of flavors and fragrance customers.

 

Rest assured that the industry will continue to innovate and provide high quality bio-based ingredients that make your products stand out in the marketplace.

 

Charles Morris is president and CEO of the Pine Chemicals Association, dedicated to promoting the growth, success and sustainability of the global pine chemicals industry.

 

 Published in IFEATWORLD magazine on July 15th