Pulp and paper

Tracking Clean Energy Progress

🕐 Last updated Friday, 25 January 2019

More efforts needed

Final energy use in pulp and paper making fell by 0.05% a year globally between 2000 and 2016 while paper and paperboard output increased at an annual rate of 1.4%. To meet SDS objectives, energy use in the sector needs to decline by 0.3% annually by 2030 globally for an expected increase in paper and paperboard production of 1.0% annually.

Global final energy demand in the pulp and paper sector

Fossil fuel consumption has declined from 2000 to 2016.

	Other Renewables	Bioenergy	Imported Heat	Electricity	Gas	Oil	Coal
2000	0.0057	1.53	0.11	1.94	1.37	0.77	0.86
2001	0.0057	1.35	0.11	1.95	1.26	0.75	0.89
2002	0.0056	1.35	0.13	1.70	1.26	0.70	0.97
2003	0.0056	1.42	0.15	1.75	1.18	0.76	1.00
2004	0.0058	1.52	0.19	1.82	1.12	0.77	1.15
2005	0.0059	1.57	0.27	1.88	1.04	0.79	1.24
2006	0.0056	1.71	0.30	1.94	1.00	0.73	1.27
2007	0.0058	1.73	0.33	1.96	1.01	0.64	1.30
2008	0.0058	1.66	0.33	1.90	0.96	0.57	1.35
2009	0.0060	1.58	0.30	1.77	0.93	0.46	1.43
2010	0.0057	1.76	0.34	1.83	1.04	0.48	1.47
2011	0.0051	1.76	0.36	1.82	1.01	0.46	1.44
2012	0.0049	1.73	0.37	1.81	1.02	0.38	1.29
2013	0.0042	1.80	0.37	1.80	1.07	0.34	1.19
2014	0.0041	1.85	0.39	1.70	1.07	0.34	1.02
2015	0.0041	1.89	0.40	1.85	1.12	0.30	0.91
2016	0.0039	1.89	0.41	1.87	1.14	0.31	0.91
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The sector’s global energy use fell by an average of 0.05% a year between 2000 and 2016. Despite this global decline in energy consumption, output of paper and paperboard increased by over 25% between 2000 and 2016 globally.

This points to a decoupling of energy use from production. Recovered fibre as a share of total fibre furnish – the mix of fibre used in paper production – increased by more than ten percentage points between 2000 and 2016.

Producing more paper from recycled sources helps reduce the energy intensity of paper 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 firm conclusions about energy intensity trends.

The paper and paperboard production growth rate accelerated to 1.4% from 2015 to 2016, up from 0.4% between 2010 and 2015.

Tracking progress

Energy use in the sector needs to decline by 0.3% annually to meet SDS objectives by 2030 globally, while paper and paperboard production is expected to increase by 1.0% annually in that period. In the SDS, the utilisation of recovered fibre as a share of total fibre furnish continues to increase, reaching more than 60% by 2030.


The IEA’s new Innovation Tracking Framework identifies key long-term “technology innovation gaps” across the energy mix that need to be filled in order to meet long-term clean energy transition goals. Each innovation gap highlights where R&D investment and other efforts need improvement.

Explore the technology innovation gaps identified for paper below:

Black liquor gasification

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

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

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Technology scale up to TRL 8 and 9, full-scale commercialisation.

Key initiatives

  • Currently two key designs are under investigation: a low-temperature steam reforming process, which is at the TRL 8 - initial commercial system stage; and a high-temperature entrained flow reactor, which is at the TRL 7 - demonstration stage.
  • Key milestone: reduce costs and improve processes in order to achieve full-scale commercialization.
  • Two commercial plants are operating with steam reforming technology: a Norampac containerboard mill in Canada and a Georgia-Pacific mill in the US. Demonstration of entrained flow reactor technology has been undertaken in two plants, one in the US and one in Sweden, that ended in 2013 due to lack of funding.

Lignin extraction

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Isolating lignin from wood pulp could enable use of lignin for new industrial products, such as chemicals. Lignin can also be used as a biofuel in boilers or lime kilns.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Technology scale up ranging from large-scale demonstration to full commercial (TRL 7 and 9), depending on the specific process.

Key initiatives

  • Several methods, including hydrolysis, acidification, and solvent-based pulping, have been tested and demonstrated (TRL 5 to 8) to extract lignin from wood pulp.
  • Key milestone: successfully demonstrate at the full plant scale and/or scale up to an industrial pilot.
  • A pilot plant in Wisconsin US extracts lignin using uses Organosol, an organic solvent developed by American Science and Technology, and was scaled up to commercial scale of 2 ton/day in 2016.
  • The Canadian developed LignoForce, lignin extraction process uses black liquour oxidation and acidification, has been tested at the small scale in Ontario Canada, and in 2016 a commercial scale pilot plant using the technology was opened in Alberta Canada. The LignoBoost technology, re-disperses and acidifies filter cake prior to washing, is being used in two commercial plants in Finland and the US, commissioned in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

Low-carbon alternatives to traditional pulping: deep eutectic solvents

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

The process could have significantly lower energy needs for pulping compared to traditional chemical pulping processes, as deep eutectic solvents enable pulp production at low temperatures and at atmospheric pressure. They function by dissolving wood into lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose. This process could also produce additional value-added for pulp producers through the sale of pure lignin as a fuel or material.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Undertake pilot testing and demonstration to further understand and improve the process.

Key initiatives

  • Proven at the laboratory scale (TRL 4).
  • Key milestone: conduct first feasibility studies and pilot testing by 2025.
  • The Institute for Sustainable Process Technology is coordinating a Europe-wide project to research and develop deep eutectic solvents, with 27 participants including paper companies, universities, and research institutes.

Alternative drying and forming processes

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Alternative processes minimize energy use for paper drying. For example, steam forming, which involves condensing dry fibres into paper, has the potential to reduce energy needed for drying by at least 50%, due to much lower water and heating requirements.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Undertake pilot testing and demonstration to improve processes.

Key initiatives

  • Various alternative drying and forming processes have been under development over the past several decades, and currently range from the laboratory to the demonstration stage (TRL 3 to 6). Potentially promising processes include flash condensing formation with steam, extraction drying with supercritical CO2, and superheated steam drying.
  • Key milestone: achieve successful demonstration of key processes by 2025.
  • We are not aware of any key initiatives that have made substantial progress in recent years to move alternative drying and forming processes through the commercialization process.

Explore all 100+ innovation gaps across 38 key technologies and sectors here.