To spearhead those efforts it hired patent-holding scientist Bruno Marcoccia as director of research and development. It is his team's job to turn what was previously thought of as waste into a marketable commodity.
"It is very natural to focus your sustainability initiatives around improving the efficiency or optimizing the performance of your existing materials flows to lower the cost of production, improving efficiency or reduce the environmental footprint," Struhs said. "The next level is looking beyond the bottom-line savings of it, and focusing on top-line growth."
Rethinking wood waste
Up to 20 percent of harvested wood is made up of lignin, which has traditionally been used as a fuel for paper mills and production facilities. But Domtar is working on new refinement technologies that separate the material and extract it for potential applications as an alternative to petrochemicals.
Its first commercial-scale lignin separation plant in Plymouth, N.C., began producing Domtar's BioChoice lignin in February and is targeting eventual production of 75 tons per day. The material could be used for creating more environmentally sensitive asphalt, as one example offered by Struhs.
The investment in the facility began back in 2010 and it was partially supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy, through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative.
"The possibilities for making a real difference in terms of offering manufacturers a bio-based alternative to the use of petrochemicals is truly exciting," said Hasan Jameel, professor at the North Carolina State University's Department of Forest Biomaterials. "This is a big win for sustainability on two counts -- Domtar improves the efficiency of its pulp-making process, and at the same time the market gets a reliable, high-quality source of this underused material with so much potential."
Next page: Commercializing research findings