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Biogas turns an environmental challenge into an opportunity

Biogas turns an environmental challenge into an opportunity
Renée Yardley
November 13, 2019

When you think about how paper can be more environmentally friendly, most people immediately think about recycling it. But it comes down to how it’s produced, too.

Why we turned to biogas

To us, true sustainability is not just around the environment but takes into account the entire manufacturing process, from start to finish – in turn, giving our customers more confidence that the paper they use has a minimal environmental impact. That includes using energy in a way that’s clean, sustainable and renewable, which is why we’ve used biogas since 2004.

Biogas is about turning what’s thrown away into something useful: energy. In our case, using biogas starts at a nearby landfill, where methane from decomposing waste is fully captured, preventing it from being released into the air. Then, it’s purified, compressed and transported through a dedicated eight-mile pipeline, meeting 93 per-cent of our paper mill’s thermal energy needs.

How biogas can power sustainability

Unlike traditional fossil fuels, biogas – which comes from capturing methane from organic materials – is a renewable energy source. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, come from drilling far into the ground for organic material that once used up, won’t return.

We began using biogas after a single employee was curious and passionate enough about its potential to bring the idea to our leadership. The company quickly got on board and turned the idea into a reality.

What’s more, methane could be harmful to the environment if it is not recovered. “When methane, the main component of biogas, is emitted into the atmosphere, it’s a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times greater than CO2,” explains Pascal Meunier, Rolland’s Environmental Manager.

Renewable energy like biogas is critical in the fight against climate change. In the United States alone, nearly 40 per-cent of CO2 pollution comes from fossil fuels (non-renewable energy sources). In short, it’s much better for preserving our environment for years to come – a passion point for us at Rolland.

“Energy management is built into our core strategy,” says Kevin Richard, President and COO of Sustana Group. “Biogas, like use of post-consumer recycled materials, plays a key role in our manufacturing process in keeping the environmental footprint of our products as small as possible.”

Results for the environment, the economy and our customers

Powering our plant with biogas allows our paper production to generate 70,000 fewer tons of CO2 – the equivalent of 23,400 compact cars – every single year.

It’s in part because of biogas that Rolland’s Enviro product line also has less than half of the environmental impact compared to the North American paper industry average, as our Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) reveals. Specifically, its impact on climate change is an impressive 62 per-cent lower than other papers in North America, also with lower human health impacts throughout its entire life cycle, in terms of toxicity and contribution to respiratory effects.

Biogas has also proven to be good business for Rolland. Using biogas allowed us to drop our plant’s thermal costs by 35 per-cent. Clearly, using renewable energy has not only set us up for environmental success, but for long-term business success, too.

We’ve long held the belief that responsible purchasing and product use involves the entire product lifecycle. With energy management and closing the loop being core to our Sustainability Strategy, biogas has become integral to our business.

By using biogas, we’re helping our customers gain confidence that the paper they use came from a process with a limited impact on the environment. In turn, this supports a path to their own lower environmental impact and to a more sustainable, closed-loop future.