Pulp has been used for papermaking for centuries, originating in ancient China. In modern times, the applications of pulp have expanded considerably, ranging from specialized stationery and recycled paper to old corrugated cardboard and a variety of tissue paper and hygiene products. There is stiff competition in the global pulp market due to the presence of multiple players at a global level, due to which companies are focusing on competitive pricing and better quality products.

The global pulp market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 1.5-2.5 percent until 2019 with the tissue paper segment driving the demand globally. Demand is projected to increase in emerging markets like Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Mexico, while newer production capacities are expected to arise from North America, Europe, and Asia. Forestry regulations, along with the quicker growth rate of non-fibers in comparison to wood trees, are predicted to drive technology development in the field of non-wood fiber pulping.

What Is Pulp?

Pulp is a biodegradable, fibrous, raw material prepared by separating cellulose fibers chemically or mechanically from wood, fiber crops, rags or waste paper. The types of pulp can be broadly divided into two categories based on the source used for extracting the pulp, namely, wood-pulp and non-wood pulp. Wood pulp accounts for around 90 percent of the pulp in use while non-wood pulp accounts for 5-10 percent of the overall pulp production.

Although any tree can be used for making pulp, coniferous trees are given preference as the cellulose fibers in those trees are longer, making paper formed from the pulp of coniferous trees stronger. The possibility of using genetically modified trees is also gaining popularity as the modified trees would be able to provide additional benefits such as increased growth rate. Trees are converted into woodchips and sent to a pulp mill where they are converted into thick fibreboards.

Non-wood pulp is made from rags or short fibers discarded from the textile industry, most commonly using cotton or linen, hemp or other fibers. Pulp manufactured from non-wood is more expensive than wood pulp but is considered to be of better quality and is used for certificates, passports, and currency.


Advantages of using Pulp

A significant advantage of using pulp is its wide applications across multiple industries. Primarily used for the production of paper, the use of pulp has expanded and the leading industries now include packaging, hygiene and tissue paper. Pulp is used in wipes, wrapping paper, board packaging, filters, newspapers, in fabrics and clothing and also as binding agents in food items and pharmaceuticals. Digitalization has led to a decrease in the demand for paper however, other industries continue to drive the demand for pulp. Due to the versatility of pulp, there is potential for more uses of pulp to be identified in the future.

Pulp is made of natural fibers found in wood and textiles, making it a renewable and biodegradable resource. Wood and textile sources such as trees and cotton plants are renewable and can be planted specifically for industrial uses. Unlike plastics which are difficult to dispose of and are harmful to the environment, pulp and its products are biodegradable and environment-friendly. Products made out of pulp are also recyclable and can be broken down and remade into fresh pulp products.

Challenges for the Pulp Market

The biggest source for pulp is wood, which despite being a renewable resource, is depleting at a rapid rate. Deforestation, whether due to logging for wood pulp or for clearing land for agriculture, has multiple harmful effects, such as climate change, destruction of habitats for animal species, and an increase in greenhouse gases. To target deforestation, countries have set in place forestry regulations which hamper the production of the pulp market. Pulp producers are implementing forestation, however, the process is time-consuming and risks reducing the biodiversity of the trees that were originally there. For non-wood pulp, the challenge involves growing fibers at a rate to match the demand and beat competition. To grow fibers for non-wood pulp, space and water are required for growing crops. Even after synthesizing the fibers, the conditioning process and making the fibers into usable components involves cost investment.

Pulp as a renewable and recyclable fiber offers a wide variety of applications, with increasing demands from emerging nations. Even as a biodegradable product and being environment-friendly, sourcing pulp takes a toll on the environment. Wood pulp sources result in higher levels of deforestation while non-pulp sources are time-consuming. Demands from emerging economies increase the competition in the global pulp market to meet the needs at a global level. The usage of paper may be decreasing, but other applications of pulp, in the forms of tissue paper, packaging and hygiene products are on the rise, maintaining the overall demand for pulp.

Published by Mohsin Ahsan