What Will We Build Tomorrow?

Jan Bottiglieri
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Abundant. Available. Infinitely versatile. A polymer with bonds that can be super-strong or fragile, depending on the structure; not soluble in water, but able to be broken into its component parts when the need arises. Did I mention “abundant”? In some environments, this stuff is EVERYWHERE: the sofa cushions, the kitchen table, the carpet, the dog’s dish…

Of course, I’m talking about Lego.

Although I am a grown-up person with a highly responsible job in the glamorous field of business journalism, I still enjoy building things with Lego bricks. If it has been awhile since you’ve put together Legos, I recommend it. The kits sold today are much more sophisticated than the red-brick houses of my youth. As stress-relieving hobbies go, it offers a lot of leeway: do you like to follow directions, or wing it? Go colorful or classic? Build for accuracy, or whimsy? That’s the best part: the possibility.

I will admit that my opening paragraph was actually meant to make you think of the world’s most abundant organic polymer: cellulose. I’ve said before that I feel we are at a critical time in the development of the pulp and paper industry, as we learn more and more about the amazing potential of cellulose and its component parts to be turned into fuel, energy, chemicals, additives… literally thousands of useful (and profitable) products. Cellulose is renewable, recyclable, biodegradable, and available—but those are only positive attributes if cellulose can provide us with value.

In this issue we’re taking a look at what we’re calling “the emerging bioeconomy”—the effort to wring new value from organic materials, to create new revenue streams, and to draw attention to the benefits offered by expanding our reliance on sustainable resources. Over the past 200 years or so, the pulp and paper industry’s scientists, engineers, and technicians have become experts at unlocking the potential of cellulose from wood and related fibers, so we’re leading the charge on bioproducts. I believe the global bioeconomy will push us toward new horizons—and as the articles we’ve assembled here attest, it’s already happening.

This issue features plenty of other great stories, starting with the PPI Top 100 list of our industry’s leading manufacturers. We also hear from RISI’s Latin American CEO of the Year; catch up with American Eagle’s energy-saving capital project; learn about best practices in vacuum systems; and much more that I trust readers will find as interesting as our cover section on the bioeconomy.

But before you dig in, I want to mention one more way that cellulose and Legos are a lot alike. With both, the fun of saying “see what I built today!” is only eclipsed by one question:

What will I build tomorrow?”