Using Steel Alternatives for the Pulp and Paper Industry

Both analysts in the field and the world’s media continue to proclaim that printed information is in fast decline as contemporary users turn away from books, magazines and newspapers; and instead look to their smart devices for information and news.

Traditional publishers have adapted to meet this trend, providing more and more digital magazines and eBooks all the time. As well as meeting the needs of ever-changing consumer behaviour, this shift to the electronic consumption of information is also affording publishers and customers cost benefits.

Both the pulp and paper industry, and the digital sector have seen massive growth in recent years; so this relationship between the two cannot be understood in simplistic, binary terms. Numerous factors have attributed to this growth, including:

  • New innovations and applications for paper and wood pulp products
  • Improved policies around environmental concerns
  • Wide-ranging moves towards more sustainable working practices
  • Efficient steel alternatives in processing plants that refine the industry’s cost-efficiency, product yield and ecological footprint

There are now more papermaking plants in the world than at any point in history; something that is surprising given the widespread and simultaneous drop in print news circulation. This growth has been supported due to the introduction of cheaper factory components that are able to withstand the highly corrosive elements of paper pressing and pulp treatment.

papermaking

Furthermore, steel is being replaced by fiberglass in the construction of structures designed for mixing and storing lime and acids, as well as for the draining of water during the pressing stage of the papermaking process.

The papermaking process occurs in multiple stages, with plants using a variety of procedures (including chemical treatment and mechanical tumbling) to convert raw materials into paper.

Traditionally used metal components are prone to degradation with repeated use. This is due to a range of factors including thermal fluctuation, physical abrasion and effluent vapors. However, steel alternatives like FRP structural materials provide a much more resistant option, exhibiting little to no chemical corrosion when exposed to the bleaching materials commonly used in traditional pulp treatment and storage processes.

Not only are these materials resistant to chemical corrosion, but there is also no danger of hydrate formation in FRP substrates. This means that components will never decay or rust as a result of the steam produced by the thermal processes used in papermaking (such as the separation of wood chips and fibers).

These highly cost-effective alternatives to steel have been the result of a range of industrial innovations in recent decades. These have allowed an increasing number of global nations to establish their own paper processing facilities, therefore improving their economies and bringing this production inside their own borders.

The rapid growth of papermaking industries has not been wholly positive however, having resulted in a massive and negative environmental impact. Worldwide ecosystems have been adversely affected by factors such as unregulated deforestation, the easy affordability of paper commodities and an increase in global greenhouse gas emissions.

While it is estimated that as much as 35% of the world’s harvested trees are used for pulp and paper processing, there is a slow and gradual movement towards improved sustainability within the industry. This move is emphasized in no small part by the financially-motivated trend towards using steel alternatives.

Steel Alternatives and Sustainability

Any industry can make real progress in the areas of sustainability and ecological benefits through the adoption of alternatives to steel. In the case of papermaking particularly, fiberglass offers not only a much less expensive alternative to steel but it is also more sustainable, and is manufactured using relatively gentle, low-carbon emission processes.

Pulp and paper products are increasingly using secondary paper products to create recycled materials, though paper recycling does use extremely large amounts of water to draw ink from materials and reduce these to a pulpy mass.

Moisture is ever-present in the papermaking process, and this factor alone highlights the very real need for steel alternatives to be used due to the aforementioned risks of rust and decay.

Currently, China is at the center of paper and pulp growth – something that should come as little surprise given the country’s current drive for recycling and reusing materials. In fact, The People’s Republic is now the international recycling and manufacturing capital, able to match the annual paper output of Wisconsin (the papermaking capital of the United States) in just three weeks.

Despite its already impressive capacity, China has plans to expand its global paper import capacity to more than 20 million tons.

Paper and Pulp Innovations

The question does remain though, about just why pulp and paper are undergoing such growth and development given the simultaneous rise of digital technology.

Steel alternatives are not the only material innovation to hugely shake up the industry. While paper products may not be as prevalent in their traditional roles for news and print media, these are finding new applications as plastic waste is gradually undercut by governments working to address the issue of marine pollution through single-use plastics

Paper bags, straws and cardboard packaging are increasingly being used to replace traditional polymer products. Meanwhile, nanotechnology research into nanocellulose structures is constantly improving the strength and application range of paper-based products.

So while digital devices continue to replace paper print products and steel alternatives like fiberglass have begun to move into the more conventional structural materials market, so too has pulp and paper began to find a new foothold in modern commercial sectors where previously, polymer and plastic use had been the standard.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Strongwell Corporation.

For more information on this source, please visit Strongwell Corporation.

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