The hard carbon produced under the brand name Lignode is a good example of the kind of resource-smarts and carbon efficiency that the forest industry, among others, needs. It’s about increasing the amount of products made from raw material while decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere from burning raw materials.
Lignode also elevates the refining value of production significantly. After being separated from the black liquor created as the effluent in the Sunila pulp mill, special dried and then further refined, the carbon material is sold with a decent price per kilo – not per tonne as traditional forest industry products.
Juuso Konttinen, responsible for the business side of Lignode, says that lignin provides a fine opportunity in many ways.
“We are using a renewable raw material that is already included in our process. It doesn’t need to be delivered from elsewhere. We don’t need to increase our wood use in order to produce hard carbon.”
Cooperation with a battery and a car manufacturer
Stora Enso has already started cooperation with the Swedish company Northvolt, which produces battery cells and systems. The goal is to develop the world’s first battery that is produced on an industrial scale and uses solely European raw materials. An industrial scale battery production would not only diminish the carbon footprint but also expenses – instead of actual graphite that is produced synthetically or obtained through mining, the anode material of the batteries comes from wood-based refined lignin.
A project-based cooperation has also been started with the Sweish company Polestar. Polestar’s 0-project aims to create an electric car that is climate neutral through the entire production chain by 2030. Attaining full climate neutrality for the entire value chain is, however, a challenge for such a highly complicated product as a car. Stora Enso’s bio-based anode material will further the climate neutrality of the battery for the project.
Driven by sustainability and electrification
Both cooperation examples show that there is demand for the bio-based hard carbon developed by Stora Enso.
According to Juuso Konttinen, the global electrification and the resulting growth in battery demand have a significant and direct practical effect on the market potential of Lignode.
“It no doubt gives a sizable extra boost to the use of materials. At the moment, there’s great demand for a unique material like this.”
However, market potential also consists of other factors beyond electrification.
“In general, the environmental sustainability of a lignin product drives demand the most. Graphite is a fossil or mining product, not exactly filling the criteria of sustainable development. Another significant reason for the demand is the strive for local value creation. Europe doesn’t have a lot of the raw materials that are critical for battery production. That’s how even geopolitical tensions are increasing the value of materials that can replace graphite, such as Lignode,” Konttinen notes.
Lignin is already gaining popularity as it is. Gained from the black liquor created as the effluent of pulp manufacturing and special dried, lignin is already used in many products and industrial sectors, for example in the adhesive and paint industry, in wood construction and to replace bitumen in asphalt.
A larger facility being planned
Stora Enso’s experimental facility of bio-based carbon materials is located in the company’s Sunila factory, which has been producing special dry lignin industrially since 2015.
Its annual ligning production capacity is presently 50,000 tonnes, making Stora Enso the world’s largest kraft ligning producer.
Stora Enso is also carrying out a feasibility study for a larger facility in Sunila. It would enable the industrial scale production of Lignode with greater production volumes.
However, Stora Enso’s weak result in the first quarter affects strategic investments. The scheduling of the battery materials processing project at Sunila in Kotka is also subject to review (Kauppalehti 25.4.)