Pulp non-fiction: How paper mills cut energy and boosted profits

While manufacturing is a critical part of the U.S. economy, it’s struggled over the last several years, both financially and environmentally. Overall U.S. manufacturing employment has dropped by more than one-third since 2000. Meanwhile, U.S. industry -- of which manufacturing is the largest component -- still uses more energy than any other sector and serves as the largest source of U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is that energy efficiency can help U.S. manufacturing increase profits, protect jobs and lead the development of a low-carbon economy. The Midwest’s pulp and paper industry is a case in point. New analysis from the World Resources Institute (WRI) finds that the pulp and paper sector -- the third-largest energy user in U.S. manufacturing -- could cost-effectively reduce its energy use in the Midwest by 25 percent through use of existing technologies. These improvements could save hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower costs and help the United States achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020. As the White House moves to cut carbon dioxide pollution in America, energy efficiency improvements in Midwest pulp and paper mills are a tangible example of the win-win-win emissions-reduction opportunities in U.S. industry.

Saving energy, emissions and jobs

WRI’s new report, "Energy Efficiency in U.S. Manufacturing: The Case of Midwest Pulp and Paper Mills," analyzes energy efficiency opportunities in Midwest pulp and paper mills. The Midwest has the largest share of overall industrial economic activity, and its energy-intensive pulp and paper mills are important for helping to save U.S. manufacturing and forge a new low-carbon economy. Lessons from this sector and region can shed light on the broader challenges and opportunities for industrial energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency yields economic benefits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program has created an Energy Performance Indicators tool that assigns a score of 50 to pulp and paper mills whose energy efficiency performance matches the national average. The higher the Energy Performance Score (EPS), the better their energy efficiency. Mills with an Energy Performance Score of 75 or above may be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification. Nearly two-thirds of the Midwest mills assessed in this study -- 64 percent -- fall short of the average EPS.

We found that underperforming Midwest pulp and paper mills analyzed in this report could reduce their total annual energy costs by $120 million if they improved their energy efficiency performance to the level of the average U.S. mill. A range of proven efficiency technologies are available to achieve this goal, such as by reducing process energy requirements, capturing waste heat and increasing efficient on-site energy use.

Taking things a step further, those savings could grow to $240 million in annual energy costs if these mills improved efficiency to the level of the ENERGY STAR performance benchmark.

Next page: Why energy efficiency for pulp and paper mills?