Innovation, Sustainable Practices Drive Pine Chemicals Industry
For many years the pine chemicals industry has supplied biorenewable feedstocks to the $130 billion dollar coatings industry. These products include tall oil fatty acids (TOFA) and tall oil rosin sourced from pine trees, making them renewable and sustainable solutions.
TOFA is primarily used in the production of alkyd resins as well as in the production of dimer and trimer acids, which are then used in thixotropic paints. Rosin is used in road markings as well as in a number of other specialty coating applications. The pine chemicals industry, which supplies these products, is a multibillion dollar international business with products produced and sold from every continent across the globe with the exception of Antarctica.
TOFA and tall oil rosin are derived from crude tall oil (CTO), which is produced as a co-product initially in the form of a soap (black liquor soap) recovered in the papermaking process. Black liquor soap is recovered in the pulp mill during the cooking of the pine chips. As the cooking liquors are separated and washed away from the clean fiber and then concentrated in an evaporator system, the black liquor soap is recovered and then is converted into CTO. The CTO is then sent to biorefineries that operate complex fractionation systems under high vacuum and high temperature to separate the CTO into its pure components.
In addition, rosin is produced from tapping pine trees and processing the collected oleoresin or gum base into gum rosin and turpentine.
Innovation and Sustainable Practices in Factories and Forests
CTO refineries operate in many countries around the world, but the United States and Europe are the primary producers. These biorefineries employ thousands of people with direct revenue in the billions. While operating in one of the oldest segments of the chemicals industry (the use of pine resins and pitches goes back centuries), pine chemicals manufacturers haven’t stood still on the innovation front. Focusing on continuing improvements in the fractionation process, the industry now employs high-efficiency systems that minimize “hold time” at high temperatures, recover and reuse heat, maximize separation and improve product consistency and purity. The result is high quality and reliability of the distilled products as well as more environmentally friendly plant systems.
There has also been a strong emphasis on improving the efficiency of CTO recovery in the paper mills. Since paper mill operations are focused on papermaking, recovery of black liquor soap and its conversion to CTO is not always a priority, even though the sales of CTO can be an important revenue stream. Additionally, the efficient recovery of black liquor soap actually improves pulp mill throughput, safety and recovery furnace operations.
As their first responsibility, entry-level engineers are often assigned to the tall oil manufacturing facility. Many of these engineers lack the experience and training to operate the plant efficiently. To offset this, the Pine Chemicals Association has begun educational seminars to teach the technology and practical operating information needed for efficient operation of the evaporators. This is where the soap is produced and recovered. These courses for engineers, operators and pulp mill managers have been very successful and attract professionals from around the world. The highly focused seminars impart best practices that result in both improved safety and efficiency, thus assuring a sustainable supply for the chemicals industry.
Although the paper industry has clearly slowed in some segments, such as writing or communication paper, this has been offset by other segments, such as linerboard, tissue and towel. These products require a higher percentage of the longer and stronger fiber that comes from pine rather than hardwood trees. Not only do hardwoods offer no chemical value, they may, in fact, impede the recovery of the black liquor soap.
For years the pine chemicals industry has practiced “cascading use,” systematically utilizing biomass for the highest-value products first, further refining remaining co-products for their value and then using any residual material for heat and steam. This practice provides the maximum value and the most efficient use of the biomass feedstock while reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
In addition to the TOFA and rosin produced from CTO, the industry has found uses for many of the other co-products that come from the distillation process. For example, Beta-Sitosterol, a cholesterol-lowering food additive, is now commercially extracted from the pitch or “distillation bottoms.” This pitch also serves as the base ingredient for an additive to reclaimed asphalt pavement used in road construction. The product helps to significantly reduce the amount of landfill and greenhouse gas emissions.
Innovation and best practices aren’t limited to the CTO. Rosin produced from the tapping of pine trees is another area where innovative practices are being employed today. Modern forestry practices including the development of hybrid trees that grow faster and deliver 4 to 6 times more oleoresin per tree, mechanized logistics in the forest, and improved methods to increase labor productivity in the tapping process are all being incorporated in the industry today. In early 2016 the Pine Chemicals Association will offer the first-ever global symposium on the recovery of gum rosin. Presenters at the symposium will discuss pine tree genetics, specifics on sustainable forestry management, new tapping technology, safety and best practices from operations around the world.
This spirit of innovation, coupled with a strong focus on sustainable practices, not only ensures steady supplies of TOFA and rosin for the coatings industry, it leads to more stable pricing and greater flexibility so that pine chemicals manufacturers can quickly adjust to the ever-changing needs of their customers.
The pine chemicals industry will continue to innovate and provide high-quality biobased ingredients that make your products stand out in the marketplace.
For more information, visit www.pinechemicals.org.