The South African pulp and paper sector has been measuring its environmental performance for several years and continuously makes improvements to drive efficiency and cleaner production.
From an energy perspective, the paper and pulp industry uses both fossil fuels (petrol, diesel, oil and coal) and biomass-based fuels like black liquor and tree residues. “Black liquor” is a by-product from digesting pulpwood chips in the chemical pulping process.
For many years, efforts have been focused on efficient, renewable and sustainable energy utilisation. Many mills generate their own energy through co-generation (steam and electricity) using biomass and coal as fuel. Co-generation is a more efficient use of fuel as the heat from the generation of electricity is used to produce steam. Biomass is regarded as a renewable and carbon-neutral fuel and has a lower carbon footprint than coal and a number of mills generate more than half of their energy needs from biomass fuel.
Since there is very little water loss attributable to electricity generated via co-generation, this further implies that this method of power generation is a suitable option, within the scarce water context of South Africa. It is important to note, however, that although the pulp and papermaking industry does generate a significant portion of its own electricity, it presently remains reliant on the national grid for the balance of its power needs.