Tracking Industry

More efforts needed
Tracking industry

Pulp and paper

More efforts needed

Final energy demand in pulp and paper in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2000-2030



Final energy use in pulp and paper grew by 1.8% in 2017, while paper and paperboard output increased 2.3%. For comparison, during 2000‑16 energy use grew 0.1% per year on average, while production expanded 1.4% per year. In the SDS, energy use needs to decline 0.4% per year to 2030, with paper and paperboard production increasing 0.9% annually. This will require greater recycling, as recycled production requires considerably less energy. Using a higher share of bioenergy and adopting waste heat recovery technologies will also be important.
Tracking progress

While global paper and paperboard output increased by over 25% between 2000 and 2017, the sector’s global energy use rose by less than 5%, indicating a decoupling of energy use from production.

The share of recovered fibre in total fibre furnish (the mix of fibres used in paper production) increased by more than ten percentage points during 2000‑17.

Producing more paper from recycled sources helps reduce the energy intensity of the paper industry. However, structural effects – such as shifts in product mixes or regions of production – can also influence energy use, and data quality issues make it difficult to draw firm conclusions about energy intensity trends.

While paper and paperboard production is expected to increase by 0.9% annually, energy use in the sector needs to decline 0.4% per year to get on track with the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) by 2030. The share of recovered fibre in total fibre furnish expands to over 60% by 2030 in the SDS.

Demand for paper and paperboard drives production levels, so is an important determinant of energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

The paper and paperboard production growth rate accelerated to 2.3% in 2017, up from 0.7% during 2010‑16, and demand is expected to continue rising to 2030 in the SDS, driven by population and economic growth.

Efforts to curb demand and increase recycling can therefore help reduce growth in energy intensity and emissions.

Global paper and paperboard production in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2010-2030


Improving the energy efficiency of pulp and paper production is one of the key strategies to decarbonise the sector.

Increasing the share of production from recovered fibre could considerably reduce energy use. To this end, improving recycling channels can help increase collection of paper products for recycling. Governments can also implement landfill and waste collection fees that encourage greater recycling of household and commercial paper waste.

Energy efficiency can also be improved through higher on-site waste heat recovery and cogeneration. The speed and scale of deploying these technologies can be raised through collaborative efforts by industry, public sector and research partners to share best practices on state-of-the-art technologies and develop plant-level action plans.

Furthermore, ensuring efficient equipment operation and maintenance will help guarantee optimal energy performance. This can be reinforced by implementing energy management systems.

The paper industry should increasingly recover and use pulp and paper production by-products such as black liquor to displace a portion of fossil fuel use.

Pursuing the use of other renewable energy sources is also important, particularly for recycled production, for which natural gas tends to be employed because biomass by-products are not readily available. Other options include producing low-energy heat from heat pumps, solar thermal energy or biogas.

Increased alternative fuels use can be facilitated by sharing of best practices among pulp and paper producers and setting industry-wide targets for alternative fuel use.

Policy makers can promote CO2 emissions reduction efforts by adopting mandatory reduction policies, such as a gradually increasing carbon price or tradeable industry performance standards that require average CO2 intensity for production of each key material to decline across the economy and permit regulated entities to trade compliance credits.

Adopting these policies at lower stringencies within the next three to five years will provide an early market signal, enabling industry to prepare and adapt as stringency increases over time. It can also help reduce the costs of low-carbon production methods, softening the impact on pulp and paper prices in the long term.

Ideally, these policies would be applied globally at similar strengths. Since pulp and paper products are traded extensively internationally, measures may be needed to help ensure the competitiveness of domestic industries and prevent carbon leakage if the strength of policy efforts differs from one region to another.

Examples include time-limited measures to ease transition, such as declining free allocation of permits, or novel measures to apply emissions regulations on the lifecycle emissions of end-products rather than directly on materials production. The latter could potentially be used to apply border carbon adjustments, provided that they are implemented in line with international trade rules.

Governments can extend the reach of their efforts by partaking in multilateral forums to facilitate low-carbon technology transfer and to encourage other countries to also adopt mandatory CO2 emissions policies.

Improving collection, transparency and accessibility of energy performance and CO2 emissions statistics on the pulp and paper subsector would facilitate research, regulatory and monitoring efforts (including, for example, multi-country performance benchmarking assessments).

Better data on paper recycling capacity and inputs are particularly needed, as are separated data for pulp and for paper production. Since the energy intensity of the pulp industry differs considerably from that of paper, it is difficult to evaluate and compare performance without separate energy data for each.

Industry participation and government co‑ordination will both be important to improve data collection and reporting.

Innovation gaps

Fuel switching and energy efficiency will be the primary mechanisms to cut CO2 emissions in the pulp and paper subsector. Innovation is also important, however.

Several technologies still in the relatively early stages of development (TRL 3‑4), including deep eutectic solvents and alternative drying and forming processes, could help raise energy efficiency considerably.

Black liquor gasification, which can produce carbon-neutral energy products for use in pulp and paper as well as other sectors, has already reached the initial stages of commercialisation but still requires further development and deployment.

Lignin extraction, which has been pilot-tested at commercial scale, could make lignin available for use as a biofuel or for new industrial products.

Gasification of black liquor can produce carbon-neutral energy products such as electricity and steam for use in pulping plants, and liquid biofuels for use in transport.

Technology principles: Black liquor is a biomass-based by-product of chemical pulping. It can be combusted as a fuel in on-site utilities to generate steam and electricity, or it can be upgraded through gasification to create syngas.

The process could use significantly less energy for pulping than the traditional chemical pulping processes because deep eutectic solvents enable pulp production at low temperatures and at atmospheric pressure. This process could also add value for the pulp industry by producing pure lignin that can be sold as a fuel or a material.

Technology principles: Deep eutectic solvents function by dissolving wood into lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose.

  1. CEPI (Confederation of European Paper Industries) (2018), "Policy briefing: Decarbonising whilst being recycling pioneer",
  2. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) (2016), Forest Production and Trade (FAOSTAT database)
  3. ISPT (Institute for Sustainable Process Technology) (n.d.), Deep eutectic solvents
  4. Provides (n.d.), "About", Provides: Deep Eutectic Solvents for Sustainable Paper Production website,
  5. RISI (2016), Paper mills asset (database)


Hugo Salamanca (IEA), Joe Ritchie (IEA), Nicola Rega (Confederation of European Paper Industries), Marcela Ruiz de Chavez Velez (IEA)

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