History and background

Wallenberg Wood Science Center (WWSC) is a joint research center at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Chalmers which aims to build a material research program that can develop new products using the Swedish forests. The base is a donation from Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation of SEK 120 million that will finance the first three years (2009-2011) of operations.

The Swedish forest industry has a strong position internationally. We are the fourth largest nation with respect to export of pulp and paper. Finland and Sweden are leading the technology and product development in Europe. Yet the Eucalyptus based industries around the world show strong competitive advantages. In addition, the strongest market developments are taking place away from the locations of Swedish forests. Our forest is thus facing challenges.

In this scenario, gradual improvements of existing products and technologies are no longer sufficient. For this reason, a strategic research program was launched, where the general objective of underpinning research to stimulate innovations and new products in the long-term perspective. Focus is on new processing and material concepts and their development. The WWSC combines the best resources from KTH and Chalmers. In fact, the process of formulating the center has generated considerable enthusiasm. The reason is that unexpected synergies and competences have been identified. The net result is more powerful than a simple additive effect. Objectives are also better focused and there is a strong ambition to combine scientific quality with industrial relevance. An important mechanism is provided by a study on the potential development of the forest industry, including rational utilization of existing infrastructure.

As a compensation for potential losses of wood utilization in “old” products, a substantial part of our future wood production will be utilized in new products. Biocomposites and new materials based on wood fibers offer large potential in this context, since product characteristics can be vastly improved. These bicomposite products are likely to be used in packaging, mass-produced furniture, automotive and general industrial applications.

Since there is strong completion from cheaper Eucalyptus products in terms of cost, new products for the Nordic forest industries need other advantages. Products need to be founded on innovations and development of new technologies, including new processing schemes. A likely consequence is also that this development will require corresponding changes in the industrial infrastructure.

WWSC will stimulate industrial development by establishing a well-equipped laboratory, by direct results from the program, by attracting internationally renowned researchers, and by training of a new generation of researchers and industry staff. The best people will be brought together in concerted action of strong identity. The center will lead the development of a modern Wood Science and Engineering discipline in Sweden, with a strong position in higher education. Developments in nanotechnology, biotechnology, and materials disciplines are combined with the established competences in pulp & paper, fiber and wood technologies. The center aims to contain both industrial relevance focus and strong scientific ambitions. The cross-disciplinary nature of the center combined with a strong wood material focus is vital. An important aspect is also to develop non-traditioal ways of working in collaborative teams.