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Metsä Fibre achieved an excellent result in a study by Germany’s Fraunhofer IMWS Institute on the environmental footprint of pulp production. The result sends a strong message to the growing European tissue paper market, where the sustainability of production is an increasingly important value.
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  • 2024, Pulp, Sustainability

Tissue paper products are the largest and fastest-growing end use segment of the pulp market in Europe. Over the next decade, the tissue paper market is expected to grow by 2–3 per cent annually.

At the same time, environmental awareness is increasing. Enlightened consumers want to be sure the products they use are made from sustainably produced raw materials, with a minimal environmental impact.

Mikael Lagerblom, Metsä Fibre’s VP, Sales, Europe, recognises both trends. He says Metsä Fibre is ready to meet these demands.

“Sustainability is an increasingly important topic, for our customers and their customers alike. We have invested in modern technologies, and our modern bioproduct mills allow us to increase our production while maintaining a high level of environmental performance.”

Sustainability is an increasingly important topic, for our customers and their customers alike.

Mikael Lagerblom

Result in line with previous life cycle assessments

In early 2023, the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems (IMWS) published a study* that comprehensively examined the environmental footprint of pulp production. Fraunhofer, based in Germany, is the largest applied research organisation in Europe, and Fraunhofer IMWS, which is part of it, works closely with industry and other research institutes.

The Fraunhofer Institute compared Metsä Fibre’s Äänekoski bioproduct mill with the average performance of pulp mills in Europe and Latin America. The study complies with the DIN EN ISO 14044 standard, and independent external researchers have verified its compliance with norms.

The study showed that the life cycle emissions from pulp production at Äänekoski bioproduct mill were significantly lower and the environmental footprint the lowest compared to the pulp produced in average-level pulp mills in Europe and Latin America.

“The result was excellent – and expected. At Metsä Group, we have conducted similar internal Life Cycle Assessments, and the Fraunhofer Institute’s result is in line with them,” says Metsä Fibre’s Sustainability Manager Marko Ruottinen.

Fossil CO2 emissions more than a third lower than those of peers

Äänekoski bioproduct mill has an annual pulp production capacity of 1.3 million tonnes. In the Fraunhofer Institute’s study, Äänekoski bioproduct mill’s carbon footprint, i.e. its fossil carbon dioxide emissions per tonne of pulp produced, was 30–45 per cent lower than the average for comparable mills.

Calculation of the carbon footprint takes all direct and indirect emissions from operations into account. They are divided into Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 categories according to the GHG Protocol. Of these, Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources, Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy, and Scope 3 emissions are all the indirect emissions that occur in the value chain. Ruottinen notes that the bioproduct mill’s carbon footprint is low because of its fossil-free operations and self-sufficiency in energy.

“The bioproduct mill uses no fossil fuels in its processes, and it produces more renewable bioenergy than it needs. Our carbon footprint therefore consists solely of Scope 3 emissions, which in practice means emissions from the manufacture and transport of process chemicals, plus emissions from the procurement and transport of wood raw material.”

Modern technology keeps particle load under control

In high concentrations, particulate matter from industrial processes, known as fine dust, can degrade air quality and cause adverse health effects.

The study by the Fraunhofer Institute found the particle load from Äänekoski bioproduct mill to be around 45–70 per cent lower than compared to the average pulp mills included in the study. Acidifying emissions from the bioproduct mill were 17–38 per cent lower.

Ruottinen says the modern technology of the mill’s recovery line, and the recovery boiler in particular, play a key role in controlling particulate emissions.

Target to cut process water use by 35 per cent

Äänekoski bioproduct mill uses a modern ECF (elemental chlorine free) bleaching process, which, according to the Fraunhofer study, has a significantly lower impact on the ozone layer than the average European mill using the TCF (totally chlorine free) process.

“A modern process uses fewer bleaching chemicals and is more resource efficient overall. In addition to these environmental benefits, the process is energy efficient. Pulp yield and strength are also high,” Ruottinen adds.

Each Metsä Fibre mill already operates within its environmental permit, but the company is making longterm efforts to further reduce the environmental burden of its mills. Metsä Fibre’s strategy is based on Metsä Group’s 2030 sustainability targets. Each mill has its own roadmap to support this work.

“Our sustainability objectives include the reduction of process water use by 35 per cent from 2018 levels by 2030. To achieve this, we are working towards increasingly closed water circulation systems.”

Economic growth boosts demand for hygiene products

The European tissue paper market uses around 10 million tonnes of market pulp each year, with softwood pulp accounting for around 25 per cent of it. The market is being driven by economic development, changing consumer habits and increased hygiene awareness, among other factors.

“There is research evidence of a correlation between the consumption of tissue paper products and GDP. The higher the standard of living, the more hygiene products are purchased,” says Lagerblom.

Metsä Fibre’s Kemi bioproduct mill started up in September 2023. Like Äänekoski bioproduct mill, Kemi mill uses the best available techniques, and in some cases the technology exceeds the EU BREF requirements for best available techniques. According to Ruottinen, the mill’s resource and environmental efficiency is top class, thanks to the technology.

“Resource efficiency means cost-effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness goes hand in hand with the requirements for sustainable development. It is an all-round win-win situation.”

* Life Cycle Assessment of fibres from bioproduct mill compared to fibres from average European and Latin American pulp mills, Fraunhofer IMWS, 2023.

This article was originally published in Fibre Magazine issue 2024.