Growing environmental concerns, emerging economies (BRIC’s) and diminishing oil reserves, contribute to a scramble for biomass causing new conditions and potentially a renaissance for biorefining industries. Wood streams seem to bet hot like the oil feedstocks were in the beginning of the twentieth century. As a consequence, the traditional cellulose industry - the largest infrastructure for transforming renewable raw materials on earth - is facing a structural change as regards future products, processes and markets. Strong uncertainties of future prices of fossil fuels as well as on CO2 emissions also contribute to the new agenda for biomass.
The overall objective of this paper is to analyze the conditions for industrial transformation of the pulp and paper industries into biorefining by in depth analysis of a small set of case studies; companies/mills with different pulping processes (separation technologies) and product portfolios. The intention is to identify possible and potential transformation strategies in general and technology, innovation and research strategies in particular. It may be argued that we are facing a paradigm – or regime - shift in the use of woody biomass beyond bulky bioenergy and p&p products. Biomass is now demanded as feedstock for just about everything and from basically all manufacturing industries – in Europe more and more for heat, steam, power and biofuels, and in general also for substituting fossil based products like chemicals and materials.
Which technologies and research strategies that can emerge out of this is far from obvious and may differ between different plants and technology platforms. Hence, questions of which biomass feedstocks and which processing technologies have the greatest potential in the scramble for biomass arise. Of importance, we assume, are also the cognitive and cultural aspects of knowledge formation, research and development, and capability creation (Constant, 1984). According to Utterback (1994) large scale process industries with heavy capital equipment are typically assumed to become locked in into their existing technological regimes/trajectories; favouring incremental rather than radical innovations.
Against that background it may be argued that the recent close down and/or outsourcing of research activities from the pulp and paper industry may contribute to a more open minded and creative innovation climate as research units become located outside the classical process cultures (Chesbrough, 2003). This raises the issue whether these diminishing in-house capabilities form a threat or an opportunity during a paradigm shift. We limit our case studies to the pulp and paper industry, its woody biomass feedstock and pulping technologies.
A consideration from this study is that the incumbents on the chemical pulping side without integrated paper mills and large, capital intensive paper machines, like Domsjö and Södra, are moving faster towards a biorefinery development and therefore may escape the lock-in. According to Utterback (1994) heavy process industries like pulp and paper tend to be rigid towards disruptive change and instead focus on incremental innovations and economies of scale. On the chemical pulp side there are indications of adapting faster than expected to the restructuring of biomass industries beyond paper.