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EU-funded projects focus on sustainable development in the pulp and paper industry

Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin welcomed project participants from EU pulp and paper research projects on 6 July at the first in a series of events designed to demonstrate Commission initiatives promoting sustainable development. Introducing the speakers, Mr Busquin dr...

Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin welcomed project participants from EU pulp and paper research projects on 6 July at the first in a series of events designed to demonstrate Commission initiatives promoting sustainable development. Introducing the speakers, Mr Busquin drew attention to the fact that, since 1989, the European Community has contributed 130 million euro towards research in the paper sector, corresponding to around one hundred projects. Around 30 of these are still running or about to start. The three projects presented at the Growth programme event show how research can help make pulp and paper production a sustainable industry. In the three year 'paper kidney' project, a consortium comprising research institutes, water treatment companies and paper mills from five countries cooperated to investigate the recycling of water in paper mills. The project was financed under the BRITE/EURAM 3 programme from the Fourth Framework programme. Many paper mills have tried to reduce waste water, introducing a recirculation rate of more than 90 per cent of the water, or even a closed cycle. This has however resulted in quality deterioration and a fall in productivity due to machine failures, slime formation and odours. This project investigated the use of thermophilic anaerobic and aerobic biotechnological treatments, polishing steps and membrane technology. Thus far, results from anaerobic experiments have appeared the most promising. Dieter Pauly from the German research institute and project coordinator Papiertechnische Stiftung (PTS) explained the kidney analogy, saying that 'closed loop water circuits in the paper making plant can be compared to the flow of blood in the human body,' which requires regular cleansing by the kidneys to prevent the build up of toxins and contraries. 'Even if this system proves not to be cheaper to use in the long term, it offers strategic advantages,' said Dr Pauly. 'The kidney approach could make it possible to increase production while simultaneously keeping effluent discharge at former levels, or even reducing them.' The project is due to be completed in November 2001. The ECOTISSUE project is being funded under the Fifth Framework programme's Growth programme, receiving 2.2 million euro in funding. The aim of the project is to improve tissue moisture capacity, absorbency, storage duration and user friendliness. One innovative aspect of the project is the attempt to shift from wet chemistry to dry gas phase chemistry, thus minimising the use of chemicals, water, energy and waste. 'Significant economic benefit is likely to derive from the project, in terms of equipment and product sales within the EU and, ultimately, throughout the world,' said Thami Chihani from SCA Hygiene Products, the project coordinator. Finally, Mark Lazonder from TNO in the Netherlands presented 'a competitive concept for the paper industry: Towards zero liquid effluent', a CRAFT project, financed under the Fourth Framework programme and involving ten SMEs from four Member States. The aim of the project was to reduce water usage by 50 per cent whilst making energy savings of 35 per cent and reducing chemical inputs. Considerable progress was made in achieving these objectives. A four component regime comprising pre-treatment, membrane bioreaction, electrodialysis and electrochemical activation was extensively tested, and pilot tests indicated that 'the long term performance of the technology combination confirmed that this is a valid concept for industrial exploitation,' said Mark Lazonder. 'The project has provided the equipment manufacturing partners with knowledge and experience that can be turned to the benefit of the European paper industry as a whole, and could also lead to increased market share in export areas,' said Mr Lazonder. He added that the venture was so successful that a similar project has already been started. He also stressed that such projects have encouraged small paper mills to do research. Also present at the pulp and paper event was Annick Carpentier, Environment director from the Confederation of European paper industries (CEPI). She claimed that EU-funded research best serves the pulp and paper industry if it focuses on concerted approaches to R&D issues of strategic or basic technical importance, including environmental R&D, interacting with scientific expertise outside the pulp and paper core technologies and linking the research to current or emerging policy issues, thus providing a scientific basis for EU directives. More specifically, she called for research in the next Framework programme to focus on new relations between paper and information technology (IT), nanotechnologies and new production processes, packaging of materials for protection of food against damage and health risk and the sustainable use of renewable raw materials for non food applications, including recycling. Ms Carpentier also called for more attention to be paid to wood, as a sustainable raw material and forests, as a source for this sustainable raw material. 'CEPI acknowledged the need to focus research activities within the new framework programme more efficiently, but is concerned that this may lead to omitting important research areas in terms of sustainability. If the scope of the priority areas remains unchanged, more resources could be allocated to the items 'research infrastructures' and 'support of coordination activities',' said Ms Carpentier. Ms Carpentier emphasised that Europe has a number of world class research centres linked to the industry, which have been stimulated by EU research programmes and COST activities. She added that Europe has now overtaken North America to become the world leader in pulp and paper technology.

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