Specialty cellulose
Everyday products

Our industry, in brief

Tembec sees significant differences between the specialty products and commodity products in our global industry, and between specialty and commodity manufacturing processes.

Specialty cellulose is a sophisticated niche business

Specialty cellulose manufacturing is essentially a refinement of the wood pulping process – a highly sophisticated refinement. Wood chips are cooked with an ammonium sulfite liquor to produce pulp, extracting lignin and other components of wood fiber. The remaining specialty cellulose is screened, bleached, washed, dried and packaged for customers.

The industry has steep barriers to entry, including high capital costs and proprietary production processes. A select few companies manufacture most of the world’s specialty cellulose – and demand is rising. Customers generally use specialty cellulose to make high-quality branded products.

Technical expertise is a must, particularly in terms of the chemistry of the specialty cellulose we produce for each business line – cellulose ethers, cellulose acetate, nitrocellulose, and microcrystalline cellulose (MCC). Tembec’s particular focus is on the degree of polymerization and viscosity control.

Renewable resource   Tembec manufacturing   Customer process and business
Softwood Arrow Specialty cellulose production Arrow Etherification > Cellulose
Acetylation > Cellulose acetate
Nitration > Nitrocellulose
Acid hydrolysis > MCC

The difference with commodity dissolving pulp

Commodity dissolving pulp is generally used in the production of textile rayon. Unlike specialty cellulose, there is little differentiation in the manufacturing process for commodity dissolving pulp destined for different viscose customers. Barriers to entry are relatively low.

Commodity dissolving pulp has more impurities than specialty cellulose. It does not require the advanced technical knowledge required with specialty cellulose production.

Notably, commodity dissolving pulp facilities cannot make high viscosity specialty cellulose without making significant additional investments in their facilities. But specialty cellulose producers can readily make lower-purity commodity dissolving pulp.

Specialty and commodity markets 2015:
Total world capacity 6.5 million metric tons

Two major sources of fiber for specialty cellulose – forests and cotton fields

The great bulk of global specialty cellulose production is sourced from wood fiber – a plentiful resource. A small slice of global production is represented by cotton linter pulp (CLP), sourced from cotton fiber. Supply inconsistencies are making CLP a niche category.