8th EPNOE International Polysaccharide Conference: Fiber-based materials in a circular future

From 17 to 22 September 2023 the 8th EPNOE International Polysaccharide Conference took place at the Graz University of Technology. This congress is an initiative of EPNOE, the Cellulose and Renewable Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS CELL), and the Cellulose Society of Japan (CSJ). The main goal is to gather academia and industry stakeholders and encourage a conversation about polysaccharide-related R&D and applications. The event's program included numerous Thematic Sessions and Round-Table Discussions on the key topic of "Fiber-based materials in a circular future."

The panel discussion on the topic "From challenges to opportunities - fiber-based materials in a circular future" was attended by Dr. Markus Wildberger, Corporate Director Technology at Koehler Innovation & Technology, representing the industrial innovation and research landscape. Together with the other panelists — which included Frank Miletzky from the Technical University of Dresden, Wolfgang Bauer, Ulrich Hirn and Tobias Stern from the Technical University of Graz, Peter Bekaert from Modellfabrik Papier, Markus Biesalski from the Technical University of Darmstadt, and Thomas Timmel from Austropapier and BioBASE —  a lively exchange was held on the opportunities of future fiber-based, circular materials, their requirements and the necessary inclusion of multiple sustainable aspects (ecological, economic and social). As a result, five points for a sustainable circular approach were summarized:

  1. System innovation based on a holistic view of the circular bioeconomy and end-of-life scenarios is required to open up new areas of applications for fibre-based materials.
  2. Opportunities and strengths of fibre-based materials not yet fully exploited.
  3. Use of consequential LCA including societal aspects instead of LCA of single products.
  4. Interdisciplinary research approaches focusing on multicycle use and circularity by design.
  5. Availability of fibre-based materials has to be secured by e.g. higher efficiencies to recover fibres from waste other than paper & board or exploring new loops of fibre recycling.

The EPNOE was established in 2005 as a “Network of Excellence” with funding from the European Commission. The network was designed to bring together resources and expertise in individual fields of science and technology. The initial focus of EPNOE was on promoting the use of polysaccharides for the manufacturing of advanced, multifunctional materials. The activities expanded towards health- and food-related materials and products. Through the years, this network has grown to include 42 academic, research and industry institutions from around the world.