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Sustainable Paper’s Best Kept Secret: Biogas

Biogas
Michele Bartolini
March 10, 2017

Sustainable Paper’s Best Kept Secret: Biogas

Sometimes following your instinct can lead one down the path of progress.

That’s how Rolland stumbled upon the secret weapon that helped them, in part, achieve their sustainability targets. The manufacturing plant for the high-quality recycled grade paper Rolland produces for the North American market, is fueled by biogas. This renewable energy helps to substantially reduce the environmental footprint for the company’s uncoated virgin and recycled papers.

So what exactly is biogas? In short, it’s garbage gas (methane). It comes from decomposing landfill waste that’s been captured to prevent its release into the air, which would lead to greenhouse gases. This renewable energy reduces Rolland’s CO2 emissions by 70,000 tons, or the equivalent of 23,400 compact cars, annually.  It’s been Rolland’s main energy source powering its mill for more than 10 years, and it now fulfills more than 90% of its energy needs.

“While Rolland has been manufacturing recycled paper since 1989, we pioneered the use of biogas in 2004 and remain the only paper mill in North America to use this energy,” said Renée Yardley, Vice President Commercial Sales Canada and North American Marketing. “Quite simply, it’s aligned with our social and ecological values – we are committed to sustainable manufacturing that is better for the environment, for business and for society at large.”

Interestingly, the idea of using biogas to fuel paper production did not come from paid consultants, or even from Rolland’s own team of scientists, but rather from a single employee – then the company’s Purchasing Director– acting on his own curiosity and passion. He had the idea watching a television program on the reduction of greenhouse gases. He broached the subject with the upper management team, and – several departments, specialists, and millions of dollars later – his initial idea became reality.

Biogas is captured, condensed and carried in a dedicated, eight-mile pipeline from a nearby landfill to the Rolland plant.  Once it arrives, the gas is burned in a boiler to create steam. This step has the advantage of converting the gas into less harmful carbon dioxide. In the past, this gas was burned on site at the landfill, and then released into the atmosphere. Not only does capturing biogas eliminate the landfill emissions, it has also allowed for the elimination of the equivalent of a large greenhouse gas chimney at the mill.

In order to measure its overall impact on Rolland’s sustainability efforts, Rolland performed a life cycle assessment (LCA) to quantify the benefits of biogas. Internal findings showed that not only did the plant’s thermal costs decrease by 35% in the first year of production alone, but the ecological impact of Rolland’s products are remarkably lower than that of standard papers:  Rolland’s Enviro reduce CO2 emissions by 62% and Opaque by 53% compared with the North American industry average.

 “Other papers are generally manufactured using fossil fuels, which are major sources of emissions” said Yardley.  “At Rolland, it’s a top priority for us to not only manufacture the best recycled paper, but to maintain the smallest environmental footprint, in order to be a reliable partner in our clients’ sustainability supply chain.”

Did you know?

  • Rolland’s fine paper production saves 70,000 tons of CO2 annually compared with traditional fossil fuels, or the equivalent of 23,400 fewer compact cars on the road.
  • Biogas energy powers 93% of Rolland’s paper machines
  • Biogas primarily consists of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).  When methane is burned to produce steam, it turns into CO2 and becomes 21 times less harmful to the atmosphere.
  • Biogas is a local, renewable and widely available energy source that would lead to greenhouse gas emissions if not utilized.