Partnering with Paper for Sustainable Biomaterials

Partnerships can help speed scale-up and ensure that our industry is getting the most value from cellulosic resources.


Millions of tons of cellulose are under-utilized every year. When biotechnology company Circa Group was set up in 2006, its founders wanted to build on their lengthy experience in the Australian and New Zealand print and paper industries to establish a sustainable business focused on transforming and extracting more value from cellulose. By creating renewable chemicals from cellulose, Circa is addressing a gap in the market by providing bio-based, non-toxic, high-performance alternatives.

As one of the world’s largest producers of newsprint, as well as magazine and directory papers, Norske Skog shares Circa’s desire to get the most from cellulose. The company is headquartered in Norway and operates eight mills in two regions: four in Europe, and four in Australasia.


Circa’s broad product portfolio includes biosolvents, flavors, and biopolymers. Bio-based platform chemical Levoglucosenone, available in industrial quantities for the first time thanks to Circa’s proprietary Furacell technology, is highly-flexible and has many industrial applications, including pharmaceutical, agrichemical, food, and cleantech. Circa is constructing a portfolio of derivative products and licensable IP from Levoglucosenone— including promising biosolvent Cyrene.

Cyrene was developed in conjunction with the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence (GCCE) at the University of York, UK, with a focus on the 900,000-metric ton solvent market in the pharmaceutical and specialty chemical industries. A chiral dipolar aprotic solvent, Cyrene is a bio-based alternative to polar aprotic solvents such as NMP, DCM, and DMF, which are under regulatory pressure worldwide due to their toxicity.

Circa wants to help customers move away from products that are harmful to their workers, customers, and the environment. Regulatory pressures are also forcing companies to consider replacement of traditional solvents.

However, replacing solvents is not a straightforward process because there is no such thing as a drop-in replacement for them. Developing new solvents involves process trialing, optimization, and product regulatory approvals. Cyrene is one of the few new polar aprotic solvents in the market. Nevertheless, even at a reasonably advanced stage of trialing, there is still more work to be done with customers and researchers to fully understand its properties and performance characteristics.

With a unique property set, including viscosity, surface tension, and polarities, Cyrene is an interesting prospect for producing advanced materials. All results to date indicate it is a safer, healthier, high-performance alternative to traditional solvents. Cyrene—and other similar Levoglucosenone derivatives—continue to surprise researchers with their unique properties.


Levoglucosenone and Cyrene are created by converting biomass with Circa’s Furacell process, proven over seven years and four pilot plants. As part of Circa’s scaling up plans, in 2015 it entered into a joint venture with Norske Skog.

Together, the companies have built FC5 in Tasmania, Australia—an AUD$6.5 million (US$5.14 million) commercial demonstration plant with a 50 mtpy capacity for Cyrene. The plant was also supported by the Tasmanian government through an AUD$1.5 million (US$1.18 million) grant. Certified, renewable cellulose waste from papermaking and forestry operations will be used as feedstock to create Cyrene from Levoglucosenone.

Partnering with a global expert in extracting, handling, and converting cellulose was a natural fit for Circa. Located at Norske Skog’s Boyer mill, the FC5 plant will be going online this year as planned. Output will be sold through Sigma-Aldrich, distributors, and directly to tier 1 manufacturers of specialty materials.


Hazardous chemicals are a risk management issue that is increasingly becoming a priority for top-level management. Demands for more sustainable, safer products and practices continue to drive innovation in industrial processes.

By taking the time to scale up efficiently and deliberately, and partnering with the world’s largest producer of newspaper and magazine paper to use cellulose efficiently, Circa wants to continue growing its position in the bioeconomy and build a safer and greener industry, making the most out of world’s most abundant polymer. 

Tony Duncan is CEO and co-founder, Circa Group. Visit to learn more about Circa Group, or to learn more about Norske Skog.