Does paper have to be flat? No, absolutely not – neither in terms of structure nor use. Imagine super lightweight furniture or 3D packaging, completely biodegradable. Stretchable paper is the key that can replace plastic and is a hot trend in paper manufacturing and research.
Today, most 3D packaging is made of plastic. This involves, of course, waste that is not biodegradable and which often ends up in the oceans. The European Commission has paid particular attention to the situation in the North Atlantic and the Pacific, where the entire food chain could be affected.
Paper as a material is flat and is not traditionally flexible. But now things are happening. In fact, everything that can be made from plastic can also be made from paper – and the technology already exists today.
Within paper manufacturing, we are currently expanding the properties of paper. We want to broaden the design window and thereby shape, fold and emboss the paper in new more extreme ways. This also allows us to increase the uses of paper.
The key is to make the paper stretchable, so it can be shaped in the same way as plastic. This opens up unlimited opportunities and new markets. Imagine the products you could create!
The prerequisite is to make the paper stretchable in both directions, both in the machine direction (MD) and cross-direction (CD). Mikael Magnusson, project manager in paper physics at Innventia, explains more:
What, then, are the challenges when it comes to producing stretchable paper? If only paper were more stretchable, it could be everything that plastic is and more. The challenge is to increase its stretchability and deformability. Above all, it’s a question of obtaining high stretchability in both directions of the paper, in order to be able to shape in THREE dimensions. Then we would no longer be limited to flat surfaces.
The technology for stretchable paper is already here today but there is still some work to be done.
However, some products have already been produced, such as cups with “reptile skin” (see BillerudKorsnäs website).
“We are halfway there now,” explains Mikael. “Slightly stronger and more stretchable paper will increase the possibilities. It now remains to verify the new concepts and applications by testing processes and techniques for production.”
So what can you do with stretchable paper? Mikael sees a future with both new products and products with expanded features. It could be everything from recyclable clothes made from wood fibres to 3D packaging with round shapes.
If paper was stretchable, we would have the solutions to the problems of the future: it would provide sustainability and cheaper transports, it’s lightweight and takes up less space. As a construction material, it’s also extremely strong in relation to its weight. Other advantages are that it can be tailored: rigid, flexible, strong and formable. Only your imagination sets the limits.
“Forest products in general reduce carbon dioxide because you can recycle and replant, so that you store carbon dioxide,” Mikael explains. “The focus is on sustainability. That’s the reason for the desire to replace today’s plastic products.”
In a future where paper can replace plastic, we can reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste. Instead we can use and recycle raw materials from the forest and at the same time have more energy-efficient production processes. This takes us closer to the goal – a sustainable and non-flat future.
Read more about Innventia's work with stretchable paper »