Tracking Progress: Pulp and paper

Pulp and paper

The pulp, paper and printing sector accounted for 5.6% of industrial energy consumption in 2014. Though its share of industrial energy use has been in decline since 2000, the sector continues to be among the top industrial energy consumers, and can play an important role in the transition to a low-carbon energy system. Despite production growth, the sector’s energy use must decline by 0.8% and direct non-biomass CO2 emissions by 17% by 2025 from 2014 levels to meet the 2DS.

Recent trends

Annual production of paper and paperboard has increased by 23% since 2000 (FAO, 2016), with growth in demand for household and sanitary papers due to rising populations and incomes, and rising packaging material needs for shipping of consumer goods. These trends have offset reduced demand for printing and writing papers in an increasingly digital age. The share of wood pulp in paper production has decreased over time, from 52% in 2000 to 43% in 2014 (FAO, 2016), as rates of waste paper recovery and recycling continue to improve.

Fossil fuels, which are primarily used for onsite utilities, accounted for 42% of total energy consumption in 2014. Decarbonising these utilities by switching to lower-carbon fuels could have an important impact.

Pulp and paper production has a high share of biomass in its energy consumption, due to the use of by-products. For each tonne of kraft process pulp,3 an estimated 19 gigajoules (GJ) of black liquor is produced, which can be used for steam and electricity generation. Sawdust, wood chips and other wood residues (called “hog fuel”) are also generally burned on site. An estimated 0.7 GJ to 3.0 GJ of hog fuel is produced per tonne of wood pulp.

Tracking progress

The sector’s energy use has grown only 1% since 2000, despite a 23% increase in paper and paperboard production, which points to a decoupling of growth in energy use and production. However, structural effects, such as shifts in product mix or regions of production, can also influence energy use, and data quality issues make it difficult to draw concrete conclusions about the energy intensity trends.

Recovery and recycling of waste paper have steadily been increasing. The utilisation of recovered paper in the total fibre furnish grew to 55.3% in 2014, up from 44.3% in 2000 and 33.9% in 1990. This trend is envisioned to continue, growing to 57.6% in the 2DS by 2025.

Research on innovative processes for pulp and paper manufacturing has continued to identify opportunities for decarbonisation. The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), for example, led an initiative called the Two Team Project, which brought together researchers to identify the most promising breakthrough technologies for decarbonisation, in an example of collaborative and open R&D. New concepts identified through this project will require additional research and funding to bring to scale.

Tracking of energy efficiency improvements in pulp and paper manufacturing is difficult, because publicly available data on production, capacity and energy use are limited. Additionally, some countries do not report biomass use for the pulp and paper sector, which makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of the sector’s energy needs.

Recommended actions

Through 2025, the sector should continue to focus on improving energy efficiency, moving towards BAT-level performance and increased recycling, while also supporting R&D efforts to develop future processes and technologies.

In the longer term, the sector can also contribute to sustainable energy supply, for example, by feeding excess heat and electricity into the grid. The concept of pulp mills as integrated bio-refineries that produce low-carbon energy commodities, including biofuels for transport, from black liquor alongside their pulping activities is gaining traction, and several pilot projects are under way. The sector also has the opportunity to contribute some negative emissions by capturing biogenic CO2 emissions. Similarly, new applications for pulp and paper products may contribute to product life-cycle CO2 emissions reductions, for example, through improved packaging or fibre-based textiles. Private- and public-sector stakeholders should collaborate to ensure the necessary framework of incentives is put in place to encourage such strategic and systemic thinking.


Published: 16 May 2017

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