Reducing the carbon footprint of pulp and paper production

Martin Fairbank

There are two good reasons why the world should be focused on reducing carbon footprint. The first, obviously, is to slow the effects of global warming and the drastic consequences it has for the planet’s future. The second reason, sometimes forgotten or ignored, is that non-renewable or fossil resources will run out, possibly as soon as 2060

As pointed out in an article by TAPPI last year and re-published by Two Sides, the contribution of the pulp, paper and printing industries to the global GHG inventory is about 1%, while that of the ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) sector is about 6%. The footprint of the plastics industry is about 3.5% and rising. Good reasons to promote the use of paper and other products derived from wood and other renewable biomass.

One advantage the forest products industry has over many others is that its raw material has a net carbon footprint of zero, since it is a renewable resource when harvested biomass is replaced by newly grown trees, as is always the case with sustainably managed forests. The industry also has access to and control over the parts of the tree that are not used for its products, e.g. bark, branches and stumps, not to mention process waste such as sawdust, planer shavings and primary sludge. These can all be potentially used as a fuel source to replace fossil fuel or for making new bioproducts. And of course, in the kraft process which uses spent pulping liquor as a fuel source, use of fossil fuel to produce steam can also be avoided. If the electricity used is from a sustainable source such as hydro-electricity, facilities can have a carbon footprint very close to zero.

Most facilities in the industry, however, have a carbon footprint that is still far from zero. What can you do to reduce the footprint of your facility? Well, you can’t manage unless you first measure, so get your carbon footprint measured. There are various protocols for its calculation. The GHG protocol has been around for 20 years and is widely used. It defines three Scopes: Scope 1 or direct GHG emissions (emitted by the process), Scope 2 or indirect emissions (from purchased electricity or steam), and Scope 3 (transportation and others). More recently CEPI, the Confederation of European Paper Industries, developed its “Ten Toes” method for calculating carbon footprint, which defines ten categories for the paper industry.  

Once you have quantified your emissions, you can then examine your process for opportunities. Here’s a list of ideas that can be used for inspiration:

  • improve combustion efficiency
  • lower process operating temperatures if possible
  • capture and use waste heat
  • optimize heat exchanger network
  • reduce variability in order to reduce energy and chemical use
  • increase use of biomass combustion
  • look for wood-based construction waste to supplement biomass fuel
  • explore cogeneration, especially with non-fossil fuel
  • explore carbon capture
  • choose renewable electricity over fossil-fired, if available
  • look for synergies with neighbouring facilities

The best projects will deliver a good economic payback as well as reduce your carbon footprint. For those projects that have poor payback, remember to review the list periodically, as the relative price of fuels, electricity and steam can be subject to change.


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