Story | 01/18/2021 07:47:39 | 6 min Read time

Towards efficient and sustainable energy use

Clean energy is vital for sustainability. Our responsibility targets express our commitment to annually improving our energy efficiency and increasing our use of renewable fuels.

Fossil raw materials can be replaced with wood-based products and solutions in many applications, but this consumes a large amount of heat and electricity. As UPM produces and consumes significant amounts of energy, the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, is one of our six focus goals.

“Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy while at the same improving energy efficiency is crucial for mitigating climate change. Energy efficiency not only reduces emissions, but it also saves natural resources and money, so it’s smart both for the environment and our bottom line,” says Pasi Svinhufvud, UPM Energy Manager, Thermal Power, HSEQ.

UPM has a remarkable share of climate friendly energy production. UPM Energy is the second-largest electricity producer in Finland, and its diverse portfolio includes mainly hydroelectric and nuclear power. In addition, many UPM businesses operate their own power plants to generate energy for our paper, pulp, and plywood mills and sawmills.

UPM has been committed to cleaner energy for decades, as expressed in our responsibility targets for 2030. We aim to further improve our annual energy efficiency by 1 per cent each year and to ensure that at least 70 per cent of the fuels we use are renewable.

Audits improve energy efficiency

Audits, innovations and UPM’s own energy efficiency network provide a tangible framework for achieving our energy efficiency goals. Since 1997, we have run regular audits to map untapped potential for improvement across our businesses. We have already achieved significant improvements thanks to audits, investments and advances in material efficiency.

“Our energy auditing experts conduct a careful inspection of the practices and technology in place at each mill,” describes Svinhufvud. “As we have already addressed every conceivable major issue, achieving a further one per cent improvement in energy efficiency requires a constant effort. Whereas past audits covered entire mills, these days we focus on making improvements in more narrowly defined areas.”

In tandem with its work to improve energy efficiency, UPM has steadily been replacing fossil fuels, primarily with wood-based biomass such as leftover bark and black liqour from industrial side streams. UPM has set up new biomass power plants in Finland the UK and other locations. Fossil consumption has also been reduced by replacing coal with natural gas in Germany and by discontinuing coal and peat use in Finland.

“We aim to ensure that 70 per cent of our fuels are renewable, and we foresee no challenge in meeting this target. For instance, we are currently renewing our Finnish hydropower plants using new technology that allows us to extract more energy from the same quantity of water,” notes Svinhufvud.

Sharing best practices

UPM shares best practices across the company through its internal energy efficiency network, which covers all the group businesses. 

“Sharing information and coordination are important for making the best use of good ideas. As our energy audits become more detailed, the network enables us to collate findings and identify common themes and paths of improvement,” says Sirpa Korhonen, UPM Senior Manager for Energy R&D and Technology.

Best practices are easy to share among UPM’s various businesses thanks to the laws of physics and the similarity of their production processes. “For example, the same principles apply to drying veneer and paper, even though the equipment is different,” she explains. 

Sustainability solutions

UPM’s ongoing efforts to increase renewable energy and improve energy efficiency are geared towards honouring our 1.5 degree climate commitment and pledge to reduce CO2 emissions. These actions conform to the UN Sustainable Development Goals as well as the EU Green Deal aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050.

“Forestry is well-positioned to meet the challenges of this century. We use renewable, recyclable and domestic raw materials, and we are pioneers in improving energy efficiency and harnessing biomass and industrial side streams,” says Nicola Rega, Climate and Energy Manager for CEPI, the European association representing the pulp, paper and board business.

“The status quo is unsustainable, so we are helping businesses in their continuous transitioning towards renewable energy. Investment is essential for energy efficiency improvement, and this in turn requires that businesses remain competitive,” Rega affirms.

The findings of the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) indicate that the climate benefits of Finnish forestry products offset their direct industrial emissions by a factor of five. According to the forest industry roadmap, in 15 years mills will have evolved to the point of near-zero fossil use, and the climate benefits of wood-based products will have improved further still.

“It is crucial that we maintain our focus on phasing out fossil fuels and raw materials,” emphasizes Ahti Fagerblom, Energy and Climate Manager at Finnish Forest Industries.

“Energy consumption is not a problem in itself, provided it is sustainable. Businesses should have a choice between a range of options to suit their needs. We don’t need magic tricks to achieve ambitious energy and climate goals – it can be done with existing technology,” concludes Fagerblom.

UPM is publishing a series of articles on the UN’s sustainable development goals. The series introduces our selected focus areas and describes the hands-on work we are doing to promote sustainability. Also check out earlier articles in the series:

Text by: Janne Suokas

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