The Pulp and Paper Industry Set Sights on Energy Sustainability
Updated: Oct 24
Pulp and paper manufacturing, compared to other industries, has immense potential to be ecological and sustainable.
Although it is an energy-intensive industry, paper materials are essentially the most renewable substances on the planet—it is completely recyclable and makes it a better substitute for non-renewable materials, such as plastic.
Over the years, the industry is also decoupling in terms of the energy consumption and environmental impacts resulting from production. Sourcing and manufacturing have become more responsible and sustainable, and the industry has set its course towards net zero emissions through various energy initiatives.
Energy sustainability in the industry
In the growing era of digitalization, the demand for paper is still relatively high. The statistic says that global paper and paperboard output increased 3% between 2010 and 2019.
To fulfill the demand, paper manufacturing requires on average 500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity to at least produce 200 kg of paper. If we compare it to general household electricity consumption, 500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) equals to a typical household leaving its electronics on-standby for a year, letting the computer continuously on for five months, and burning a 60W light bulb continuously for a year.
In response to the rising concern of carbon emissions, heavy industries all over the world are aiming for net zero emissions by 2050. The transition to net-zero will affect all areas of company strategy. Positively, there would be a huge shift in energy sources, in which there could be a large potential for those who could provide attractive renewable materials, which in turn motivate companies to utilize them instead of using today’s fossil options.
During 2010 - 2019, final energy use in pulp and paper increased an average 0.1% annually along with the elevating paper and paperboard output by 0.3%. Nonetheless, the sector’s global energy use merely accumulated by ~0.5% despite the growth in production, indicating a decoupling of growth in production from growth in energy consumption.
Making efforts towards zero carbon emissions
Paper processing and extraction require a massive amount of energy, thus innovations are concerned to attain a sustainable pulp and paper production.
Although the process to net zero emissions might be complex and lengthy, it is possible to create an energy-efficient and more eco-friendly system. Each pulp and paper company has their own strategies to achieve energy efficiency and minimize emissions, and here are some of them:
Scale up the use of alternative energy sources
The use of natural gas or fossil fuels as main energy sources need to be reduced significantly to minimize their detrimental impacts to the environment. Furthermore, it is dangerous to rely too much on energy as once the power is cut off, the whole process would be affected.
Nowadays, the paper industry has gradually shifted to using renewable energy sources. For example, to displace a portion of fossil fuel use, companies use pulp and paper production by-products, such as black liquor and wastewater treatment sludge. Several other options, from heat pumps, biogas, or solar thermal energy, are worthwhile alternatives to produce low-energy heat, which means fewer energy consumption.
The use of bioenergy and alternative fuels currently account for about 40% of total energy used in the sector, and 60% of the fuels consumed by the industry now are non-fossil renewable biomass.
Intensify recycling and energy efficiency
One of the key strategies to decarbonise the sector is by intensifying energy efficiency. Energy efficiency can be achieved and improved through several methods focusing on state-of-the-art technologies and equipment maintenance.
Energy consumption could be reduced by increasing the share of production from recovered fibers. By improving recycling channels and implementing landfill and waste collection fees, greater collection of paper products for recycling could be achieved from households and commercial paper waste.
Modern paper mills could also deploy higher on-site waste heat recovery and co-generation that improve energy efficiency. There is also advanced sensor technology for quality-control that could heightened slitting optimization and recheck efficiency, reducing 5% trimming and saving pulp and chemicals in return.
In addition to implementing energy-efficient systems and technologies, no less important is to ensure all equipment operations are always in top shape to guarantee optimal energy performance. Implementing solid energy management systems could help reinforce maintenance.
Take up CO2 emissions policies and reach for international cooperation
Reducing CO2 emissions is possible by implementing mandatory reduction policies, such as raising the tradable industry performance standards that require intense CO2 for productions or cranking up the price of carbon gradually.
Adopting these policies in the short term, for example within the next three to five years, will provide a signal for industries to prepare and adapt for net zero emissions production. The efforts would be even stronger and more impactful if the policies are applied globally at similar strengths. Therefore, governments between countries should work hand-in-hand to encourage each other to adopt mandatory CO2 emissions policies and facilitate low-carbon technology transfer.
Research, regulatory and monitoring efforts on energy consumption highly depend on data. To facilitate them, better collection, transparency, and accessibility of energy performance and CO2 emissions statistics, data on paper recycling inputs and capacity, as well as data for pulp and paper production are particularly required.
By adopting these strategies into real actions, pulp and paper companies nowadays are getting more eco-friendly. Solid cooperation between the industry and the government, on a local and global scale, is pivotal in the efforts and should be intensified for them to work as intended.
What about BMJ’s energy goals and strategies?
Energy sustainability is BMJ’s priority
Non-renewable resources are of immeasurable value. They keep the economy running, and essentially, they keep us alive in so many ways. We heavily rely on them yet often forget that they could run out, perhaps not that far off in the future. Therefore, we need to make haste to do whatever it takes to preserve resources, especially the non-renewables. That is one of BMJ’s primary goals.
BMJ is keen to be part of the journey towards net zero emissions. We pursue sustainable development and low-carbon economic growth on top of encouraging the use of energy-efficient technology and innovations and facilitating knowledge-sharing partnerships to further develop existing experience and information in sustainability.
At BMJ, our Energy Management Team has been working intensely and full of ideas to decrease coal, electricity, and water consumption in the production. Our Precipitated Calcium Carbonate (PCC) Plant produces our own CaCO3 by recycling CO2 emission, effectively reducing costs and ultimately cutting down emissions.
BMJ believes that the pulp and paper industry will lead others to sustainability. Our steps, growing bigger and faster with each innovation, will eventually take us closer to our goal of preserving a sustainable future.
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