Industrial decarbonisation of the pulp and paper sector: A UK perspective

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The potential for reducing industrial energy demand and ‘greenhouse gas’ (GHG) emissions in the Pulp and Paper sector (hereinafter denoted as the paper industry) has been evaluated within a United Kingdom (UK) context, although the lessons learned are applicable across much of the industrialised world. This sector gives rise to about 6% of UK industrial GHG emissions resulting principally from fuel use (including those indirectly emitted because of electricity use). It can be characterised as being heterogeneous with a diverse range of product outputs (including banknotes, books, magazines, newspapers and packaging, such as corrugated paper and board), and sits roughly on the boundary between energy-intensive (EI) and non-energy-intensive (NEI) industrial sectors. This novel assessment was conducted in the context of the historical development of the paper sector, as well as its contemporary industrial structure. Some 70% of recovered or recycled fibre is employed to make paper products in the UK. Fuel use in combined heat and power (CHP) plant has been modelled in terms of so-called ‘auto-generation’. Special care was taken not to ‘double count’ auto-generation and grid decarbonisation; so that the relative contributions of each have been accounted for separately. Most of the electricity generated via steam boilers or CHP is used within the sector, with only a small amount exported. Currently-available technologies will lead to further, short-term energy and GHG emissions savings in paper mills, but the prospects for the commercial exploitation of innovative technologies by mid-21st century is speculative. The possible role of bioenergy as a fuel resource going forward has also been appraised. Finally, a set of low-carbon UK ‘technology roadmaps’ for the paper sector out to 2050 have been developed and evaluated, based on various alternative scenarios. These yield transition pathways that represent forward projections which match short-term and long-term (2050) targets with specific technological solutions to help meet the key energy saving and decarbonisation goals. The content of these roadmaps were built up on the basis of the improvement potentials associated with different processes employed in the paper industry. Under a Reasonable Action scenario, the total GHG emissions from the sector are likely to fall over the period 1990-2050 by almost exactly an 80%; coincidentally matching GHG reduction targets established for the UK economy as a whole. However, the findings of this study indicate that the attainment of a significant decline in GHG emissions over the long-term will depends critically on the adoption of a small number of key technologies [e.g., energy efficiency and heat recovery techniques, bioenergy (with and without CHP), and the electrification of heat], alongside a decarbonisation of the electricity supply. The present roadmaps help identify the steps needed to be undertaken by developers, policy makers and other stakeholders in order to ensure the decarbonisation of the UK paper sector.