The secret to a small environmental footprint
Biogas energy
Julie Loyer
March 1st, 2016

The secret to a small environmental footprint

For Rolland’s first blog, I couldn’t start with a better subject than biogas. Not because it’s new (the Rolland mill has been using this type of energy for more than ten years), but rather because it still remains our most sustainable flagship project even after a decade.

An exercise in circular economy

As surprising as it may seem, biogas is basically energy that comes from trash! Waste decomposition creates methane captured, condensed and carried through an 8-mile-long pipeline. Once at the factory, the gas is burned in a boiler to create steam, which is an essential component in papermaking. This step has the advantage of converting methane into carbon dioxide, a gas 21 times less harmful to the atmosphere.

Biogas is a circular economy project as it uses waste from one industry – gas originating from the landfill – and turns it into raw material for another industry, namely thermal energy for paper. No doubt, it is a locally sourced and ecologically responsible energy.

Here is a short video that helps visualize the process.

Natural partners

Such a major innovative project would not have been possible without partnerships, all of which have been there from the very beginning of the project.

Waste Management oversees the landfill in Sainte-Sophie. It manages the collection of methane gas, which in the past was burned on site and then released into the atmosphere. Now its output not only generates revenue for the company but it has allowed the complete elimination of a substantial greenhouse gas chimney.

Gaz Metro is in charge of transporting gas through underground pipeline and ensuring that the gas is moved with minimal disturbance. These pipes run for many miles before reaching the paper plant.

To each his expertise!

Someone behind the idea

Here’s an interesting fact. The idea to use biogas in this way did not come from paid consultants, or even from Rolland’s own scientists, but rather from a single, curious and passionate employee. It was the director of purchases at that time who had the idea while watching a television program on the reduction of greenhouse gases. He dug a little deeper only to discover that his idea had some potential for Rolland. At that point he broached the subject with the upper management team. Eventually, several departments and specialists – both internal and external – had to get involved, and millions of dollars had to be invested to implement this.

The birth of such a massive project, which involved a non-traditional process of inspiration and execution, was made possible by a company’s open leadership that continues to leave room for its employees to generate and develop new ideas.

We win, you win

Once in place, using biogas became so logical and natural that it seemed difficult to envision doing business differently. The gains have been many and far reaching!

The environmental gains are perhaps the most profound. Using biogas allows the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 70,000 tons every year. That is like removing annually 23,000 compact cars from the highways. Basically, one of the two largest contributors to greenhouse emissions in the Laurentians has been shut off permanently.

A Life Cycle Assessment was performed, and in a concrete and quantifiable way, it demonstrated the environmental impact that using biogas energy has in producing Rolland paper. The results showed that the ecological impact of Rolland paper was remarkably lower than that of standard paper. Thanks to biogas energy, this low level of impact applied to human health, ecosystems, and non-renewable resources as much as it did to larger scale climate changes.

The social gains are less direct, but still very much present. The paper industry is, as you might have guessed, a mature market, which presents some significant challenges. This project helps stabilize and secure quality jobs on a regional scale in a difficult context.

Financial gains are clearer and more direct. Using biogas at our plant has allowed us to stabilize our energy supply and to reduce our costs. Despite the tremendous initial investment, this project is, simply put, profitable.

The entire biogas venture is ultimately good news for consumers. Above all, it has allowed ecologically conscious consumers to buy one of the most eco-friendly lines of paper on the market at an affordable price, turning their strong environmental values into reality.

And now, it is possible to advertise the choice to go green effectively to clients. Quantifiable ecological gains can be measured per each sheet that is produced and can be known using the eco-calculatorEnvironmental logos and icons are also available, which help support these gains derived from the calculations when communicating with employees and the public. These practical tools are perfect for companies and individuals alike who are putting their eco-friendly principles to practice.