4 Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions at a Papermill

Pulp and paper mills need a tremendous amount of electricity and heat, placing the industry in the top 5 most energy-intensive industries globally, generating significant CO2 emissions. Facilities that improve efficiency will have an advantage in the coming years. In this post, we explore the following:

  • Carbon emissions in the paper industry
  • What to expect in the next decade
  • 4 strategies for reducing a paper mill’s carbon footprint today.

Carbon Emissions in the Paper Industry

The paper industry is the 4th largest industrial energy user.  It accounted for approximately 6% of global energy use and 2% of direct industrial CO2 emissions in 2022.  The CO2 emissions of pulp & paper production place the industry in the same category as other heavy-industrial and commercial industries, such as aviation, marine shipping, and internet datacenters.

Global CO2 Emissions from Pulp and Paper

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the paper industry released 190 Mt of CO2 in 2021, reaching an all-time high as global production spiked and accounting for about 2% of global CO2 emissions. The increase was driven by the changing mix in global paper use as newsprint, writing, and printing paper production is replaced by high-grade papers like packaging, wrapping, and household papers. Since 2013, China has been the largest pulp & paper producer (25% worldwide output).  Since 2013, China has been the largest pulp & paper producer (25% worldwide output).  Other leading producers are the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Canada.  

Emissions from Pulp and Paper in the US

The United States is the 2nd largest paper-producing country and ranks as the #1 country for paper consumption.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CO2 emissions continued a decade-long downward trend in the US. Between 2011 and 2021, the number of pulp and paper facilities emitting greenhouse gases in the US dropped from 233 to 214, and annual CO2 emissions dropped from 44.2 CO2e to 34.9 CO2e. 

The globally projected increase in demand for paper products strengthens the need for solutions to decrease energy usage and lower CO2 emissions.  

The Paper Industry’s Future

The industry is not on pace to achieve Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that paper production will increase through 2030 based on the shift in paper grades produced, outweighing incremental gains in efficiency. 

Although the industry has seen a 3% average per year decrease in emission intensity, that decrease needs to accelerate to 5% to reach the 2050 goal.  The pulp and paper industry has also shifted towards energy efficiency since 2010. However, the decrease needed to meet the 2050 goals requires double the current annual rate through 2030.  

A large percentage of the energy used in pulp and paper production occurs in the drying process, accounting for 70% of all energy used. Research is developing approaches to reduce this number, but the most promising innovations are at the proof-of-concept phase. The IEA identified several technological advances that may provide significant opportunities to improve efficiency in the coming years.

  • Superheated steam– Technological advances may use superheated steam to save energy by enabling thermal energy recovery for use in other processes. A pilot project is expected in 2026.
  • Water removal without evaporation– Removing water without evaporation could reduce the energy used in drying by up to 90%. A project to analyze water removal based on electrical forces is slated for testing in 2024.
  • Papermaking without water– No heat would be required for papermaking processes that do not involve water. Options are being studied, but current technologies can only meet 1% of global paper demand.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is becoming more widespread, and its positive benefits are gaining momentum and funding. CCS projects can help capture carbon dioxide emissions from paper mills and store them underground, significantly reducing carbon emissions in the paper industry. One such project was funded in 2022 by Emissions Reduction Alberta at the Hinton Pulp Mill site. This project studies the effects of capturing and storing biogenic CO2 emissions. 

As governments develop policies that focus on net zero emissions goals, the main driving factors for change will include innovative technologies,  increased use of by-products and recycled materials, and substituting fossil fuels with biomass alternatives.  

4 Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gases at a Paper and Paper Plant in 2023

Future technology is exciting, but our clients want to know how to reduce emissions today. Check out these 4 strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions at pulp and paper mills using current technologies. 

Increased Efficiency

Most pulp and paper plants we’ve analyzed have the opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on energy. Our Industrial Efficiency Program (IEP) uses industrial airflow testing and thermal drone technology to identify systemic inefficiencies.  Our IEP customers have benefitted from our findings, including inefficient fuel processing, poor fan design, cracks and tears that allow air-in leakage, and improper particle collection and management.   

See how we helped one paper mill save $500,000 annually!


Recycling pulp and paper products can help reduce carbon emissions by reducing the need for virgin wood pulp. When paper is recycled, it requires less energy to produce than virgin paper, which can lead to lower emissions. 

Unfortunately, the emissions reduction from recycling isn’t enough to offset CO2 from the energy required to produce paper from recycled materials.  To reach recycling’s full potential, the industry must transition to low-emission energy sources like bioenergy. 

Fuel Switching 

One of the most effective strategies for reducing carbon emissions in the paper industry is to switch to renewable energy sources. The amount of infrastructure changes can make a complete transition challenging, but moving even a small portion of a paper mill’s energy to renewable sources can reduce long-term costs.

Biomass energy sources can be used to replace fossil fuels in producing paper. Paper mills can increase the utilization of wood waste and other organic materials to generate heat and power for their operations. This strategy promotes a circular economy by reducing carbon emissions and decreasing waste.  

Waste Heat Recovery

Pulp and paper production produces tremendous heat, and few facilities recover as much heat as possible. Innovations in waste heat recovery provide opportunities to capture heat generated in one part of the process for drying. For example, latent heat from the drying process can produce steam for drying. 


The paper industry has a significant impact on carbon emissions globally. However, the industry is taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint to comply with regulations, improve efficiency, and move towards a more sustainable future. Mills that act now will be ahead of the game as regulations ramp up in the coming years and technology provides new opportunities. 

The strategies discussed above are just some ways paper mills can reduce their carbon emissions. Contact ProcessBarron to see how you can meet regulatory requirements and improve efficiency today.