Sustainable and circular water use, a future issue for bio-based process industry

An area analysis has mapped the use of water in the pulp and paper industry and the way in which climate change might affect future water availability. The survey shows that currently, few areas in Sweden have encountered problems, and that water use in recent decades has been stable or has reduced in line with energy-saving measures. The analysis also suggests measures for future preparedness.
“There is a clear need for increased knowledge regarding future water situations, and for a greater consensus on current water use,” says Marie Karlberg of RISE, who led the work on the area analysis.

The area analysis was prepared by RISE (Research Institute of Sweden) on behalf of the strategic innovation programme, BioInnovation.

Water is one of the most important resources for both the bio-based industry and for other industries. Water is used for cooling in production processes, for example. Water use should not be equated with water consumption. Much of the water passes through the processes of the industries, is purified and then returned to water sources. Some evaporates and is used up in the process. The availability of water is a major competitive advantage for Sweden and also an important question for the sustainable industry of the future. The issue is also being brought to the fore keeping pace with new customer requirements, EU directives and legal requirements.

A changing climate will require sustainable and well-planned water use.

Helena Sjögren, Environmental Director at the Swedish Forest Industries Federation.

In roundtables and interviews, discussions were held on companies’ risk awareness, the proportion of water circulated internally in factory processes, and the links between water consumption and energy.

– Since the 1980s, total water use in industry has remained relatively unchanged. This is despite production having increased over the same period. It is most important to prioritise water-saving measures in the areas at risk of water shortages, which is primarily in south-eastern Sweden, says Helena Sjögren, Environmental Director at the Swedish Forest Industries Federation (Skogsindustrierna), and a member of the steering group for the project.

The report shows that the bio-based industry of the future needs to work closely with local stakeholders, as well as with authorities such as SMHI (Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute) and SGU (Swedish Geological Survey) to proactively plan for future climate change. For example, climate change could mean that some industries will have higher flows in their water sources during certain periods, while others will be affected by drought and reduced water quantity.

Marie Karlberg, RISE.

– There is a real need for increased knowledge about future water situations and for a greater consensus on current water use. Changing legal requirements and regulatory changes will involve industries in different ways. Greater consensus and increased understanding is needed not only locally, but also for example, between suppliers of wastewater and water treatment plants and the bio-based process industries. To support the work, companies need to set up key indicators that are monitored over time with regard to water availability and use in their operations, says Marie Karlberg, RISE, who directed the work on the area analysis.

Companies also need to develop solutions in order to recycle water.

Sverker Danielsson

Sverker Danielsson, Deputy Programme Manager for BioInnovation.

– Companies emphasise the need for more know-how about techniques for reusing process water and managing process impurities, and further research is needed in this area. We need to learn how to deal with all residual flows and to see wastewater as a resource, for example for phosphorus recovery, says Marie Karlberg.

– Most plants in the Swedish bio-based process industry do not consider water shortage to be a high risk at present, but we can see that the issue of water consumption is being raised. Proactive work on this issue in line with future climate change is important if Sweden is to continue to be a pioneer in the green transition, says Sverker Danielsson, Deputy Programme Manager for BioInnovation.

See the project page Area analysis processs water.