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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Cross-disciplinary themes > Community research on pulp and paper
Graphic element Community research on pulp and paper

The pulp and paper industry is a key element of the European paper and forestry sector, which generates an annual turnover in excess of € 400 billion. Comprising more than 1,300 mills and some 1,000 pulp, paper and board producers, this industry provides direct employment for over 260,000 people. Indirect employment through the whole paper and forest sector brings this total to around four million.

Europe has long been a technological leader in this field, with a strong commitment to sustainable production. It also maintains a strong position in the global marketplace. The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) reports that, in 1999, European sources accounted for 28% of world pulp and paper output, with North America providing 32% and Asia 29%. Preliminary figures for 2000 indicate that Europe's production volume increased by a further 5% to approximately 90 million tonnes, which should more than maintain its market share.

Based on sustainable resource

The end products are based on a sustainable resource: wood fibres are both renewable and recyclable for re-use or energy generation. Currently, recycled fibre meets about 40% of the total raw material requirement, but the European declaration on paper recovery, in Brussels, in November 2000 by CEPI and the European Recovered Paper Association (ERPA) pledges that, by 2005, at least 56% of paper and board products used in Europe will be recycled - this is a 25% increase in recycling or an additional 10 million tonnes or more of recovered paper
Furthermore, the industry has been successful over the past 20 years in transforming itself from a heavy polluter into a low waste, low emission producer. It nevertheless continues to face a number of competitive and legislative pressures that make on-going EU-level research a vital necessity.
Already today, the pulp and paper sector provides a good example of how research funding can be used to foster European policies, and how new knowledge can be incorporated into working practices. It has made effective use of several instruments available under the European Commission Fifth Framework programme, including RTD projects, thematic networks, industry host fellowships and CRAFT projects.
The R&D capability within universities and institutes also remains strong, with good contacts and a spirit of collaboration achieved mainly as a result of such initiatives and the COST (co-operation in science and technology) system.

Innovative solutions reduce environmental impact

Since 1985, well over 100 pulp- and paper-related projects - involving EU-funding of approximately € 150 million - have been co-financed by the European Commission, particularly concerned with environmental care and sustainability. Innovative research solutions - such as process control electronics, process modelling and automation, biotechnological treatment of effluents, membrane separation and chlorine-free bleaching - have contributed to substantial reductions in environmental impact.
For example, the use of advanced combined heat and power (CHP) plants to generate one third of the industry's total electricity requirements has resulted in a 35% energy saving. Extensive adaptation of plants to switch from fuel oil to natural gas - as well as using biofuels such as non-recyclable paper to meet 50% of thermal energy requirements - has led to CO2 emission reductions of 17% over the past decade. The fuel changes, plus improved process control, have also cut SO2 output by 55% and NOx by more than 85% in the same period.
The generally high dependence on fresh water - averaging 35m3/tonne of finished product in 1999 - remains a major concern, although polluting effects such as biological oxygen demand in effluents and the discharge of organic chlorine compounds have been greatly reduced. Moves towards the adoption of closed-loop processes wherever possible will progressively decrease water consumption and effluents, but future improvements in this and other areas will become increasingly difficult to achieve.

   Challenges still to be faced

A typical problem is the fact that closed water circuits create favourable conditions for micro-organisms and lead to increased build-up of slime deposits that cause severe operational problems, especially when recycled fibre is used as raw material. New eco-efficient methods for slime control are needed, since conventional biocides are potentially toxic to the environment.
With higher levels of recycling, manufacturers also face the need to deal with larger volumes of residues. Some can be incinerated to provide energy input; others are finding application as additives in building materials. Continuing research is necessary to find further economical uses for such by-products, or to minimise the effects of any unavoidable disposal.
Tougher emission reduction targets to combat global warming present yet another challenge. In this respect, the roles of forests as sources of raw materials and biofuels, versus their capacity to act as sinks for atmospheric CO2, require careful evaluation.

Responding to shifting product needs

The end products themselves and shifting patterns of use form another important focus for R&D. Markets for many traditional products are declining, due to social and technological factors such as the growing influence of information technology (IT) on society. As established commodities become less relevant to consumers' evolving needs, it will become important to find new uses for wood fibres - often with a higher added value but smaller scale of production than is the current norm.
Today's paper and board industry, rooted in an economy-of-scale approach, may not be best suited to making and selling such products. Consequently, R&D must increasingly embrace the whole forest cluster - including not only the pulp and paper manufacturers themselves, but also their suppliers and the other upstream and downstream participants in the value chain.
The advancement of integrated product policies linking the complete cycle from design and production, through service until the end of life, is therefore a major priority - as indicated in the February 2001 European Commission Green paper on integrated product policy (COM/2001/68).

See also
Towards a sustainable future for Europe
Based on sustainable resource
Innovative solutions reduce environmental impact
Challenges still to be faced
Responding to shifting product needs

Key data

Community research in the pulp and paper industry is part of the Growth programme's Innovative products, processes and organisation key action. Successful projects include:
A competitive concept for the paper industry towards zero liquid effluent . This CRAFT project has enabled a group of paper industry SMEs to enlist expert research support in exploring new techniques that can dramatically reduce water usage and effluent output.
ECOTISSUE (Ecotissue by gas phase surface modification of lignocellulosic fibres). This project is developing a novel process that cuts water usage and delivers improved paper products for hygiene applications
PAPER KIDNEY (Advanced water treatment technologies for kidney operating of zero effluent water systems for paper and board production). This project is determining the feasibility of minimising paper mills' water consumption without compromising product quality. The technology is already being exploited at Oudegem Papier in Belgium.
SLIMEZYMES (Eco efficient novel enzymatic concepts for slime control in pulp and paper processing). This project seeks to eliminate the slime formation that often creates problems for paper mills attempting to run closed loop water systems.

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