Pulp (paper)

Pulp is a lignocellulosic fibrous material prepared by chemically or mechanically separating cellulose fibres from wood, fibre crops or waste paper. Wood pulp is the most common raw material in papermaking.

Cellulose fibers in paper (tissue). Microphotographer: Akroti (2006)

Cellulose fibers in paper (tissue)


Using wood to make paper is a fairly recent innovation. In the 1800s, fibre crops such as linen fibres were the primary material source, and paper was a relatively expensive commodity. The use of wood to make pulp for paper began with the development of mechanical pulping in Germany by F.G. Keller in the 1840s,[1] and by the Canadian inventor Charles Fenerty in Nova Scotia.[2] Chemical processes quickly followed, first with J. Roth's use of sulfurous acid to treat wood, followed by B. Tilghman's U.S. patent on the use of calcium bisulfite, Ca(HSO3)2, to pulp wood in 1867.[3] Almost a decade later the first commercial sulfite pulp mill was built in Sweden. It used magnesium as the counter ion and was based on work by Carl Daniel Ekman. By 1900, sulfite pulping had become the dominant means of producing wood pulp, surpassing mechanical pulping methods. The competing chemical pulping process, the sulfate or kraft process was developed by Carl F. Dahl in 1879 and the first kraft mill started (in Sweden) in 1890.[3] The invention of the recovery boiler by G. H. Tomlinson in the early 1930s[1] allowed kraft mills to recycle almost all of their pulping chemicals. This, along with the ability of the kraft process to accept a wider variety of types of wood and produce stronger fibres[4] made the kraft process the dominant pulping process starting in the 1940s.[3]

Global production of wood pulp in 2006 was 160 million tonnes (175 million tons).[5] In the previous year, 57 million tonnes (63 million tons) of market pulp (not made into paper in the same facility) was sold, with Canada being the largest source at 21% of the total, followed by the United States at 16%. Chemical pulp made up 93% of market pulp.[6]

Manufacture of wood pulp

The timber resources used to make wood pulp are referred to as pulpwood. Wood pulp comes from softwood trees such as spruce, pine, fir, larch and hemlock, and hardwoods such as eucalyptus, aspen and birch.[7]

A pulp mill is a manufacturing facility that converts wood chips or other plant fiber source into a thick fiber board which can be shipped to a paper mill for further processing. Pulp can be manufactured using mechanical, semi-chemical or fully chemical methods (kraft and sulfite processes). The finished product may be either bleached or non-bleached, depending on the customer requirements.

Wood and other plant materials used to make pulp contain three main components (apart from water): cellulose fibres (desired for papermaking), lignin (a three-dimensional polymer that binds the cellulose fibers together) and hemicelluloses, (shorter branched carbohydrate polymers). The aim of pulping is to break down the bulk structure of the fibre source, be it chips, stems or other plant parts, into the constituent fibers.

Chemical pulping achieves this by degrading the lignin and hemicellulose into small, water-soluble molecules which can be washed away from the cellulose fibers without depolymerizing the cellulose fibres (chemically depolymerizing the cellulose weakens the fibres). The various mechanical pulping methods, such as groundwood (GW) and refiner mechanical (RMP) pulping, physically tear the cellulose fibres one from another. Much of the lignin remains adhering to the fibers. Strength is impaired because the fibres may be cut. There are a number of related hybrid pulping methods that use a combination of chemical and thermal treatment to begin an abbreviated chemical pulping process, followed immediately by a mechanical treatment to separate the fibers. These hybrid methods include thermomechanical pulping, also known as TMP, and chemithermomechanical pulping, also known as CTMP. The chemical and thermal treatments reduce the amount of energy subsequently required by the mechanical treatment, and also reduce the amount of strength loss suffered by the fibers.

Global pulp production by category (2000)[8]
Pulp categoryProduction [M ton]
Total virgin fibres187.0
Recovered fibres147.0
Total pulp334.0

Harvesting trees

Main article: Logging

All kinds of paper are made out of 100% wood with nothing else mixed into them (with some exceptions, like fancy resume paper, which may include cotton). This includes newspaper, magazines and even toilet paper. Most pulp mills use good forest management practices in harvesting trees to ensure that they have a sustainable source of raw materials. One of the major complaints about harvesting wood for pulp mills is that it reduces the biodiversity of the harvested forest. Trees raised specifically for pulp production account for 42 percent of world pulp production,[9] old growth forests account for 9 percent, and second- and third- and more generation forests account for the rest.[10]Reforestation is practiced in most areas, so trees are a renewable resource. The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certifies paper made from trees harvested according to guidelines meant to ensure good forestry practices.[11]

The number of trees consumed depends on whether mechanical processes or chemical processes are used. It has been estimated that based on a mixture of softwoods and hardwoods 12 metres (40 ft) tall and 15-20 centimetres (6–8 in) in diameter, it would take an average of 24 trees to produce 0.9 tonne (1 ton) of printing and writing paper, using the kraft process (chemical pulping). Mechanical pulping is about twice as efficient in using trees since almost all of the wood is used to make fibre therefore it takes about 12 trees to make 0.9 tonne (1 ton) of mechanical pulp or newsprint.[12]

There are roughly 2 short tons in a cord of wood.[13]

Preparation for pulping

Main article: Woodchipping

Woodchipping is the act and industry of chipping wood for pulp, but also for other processed wood products and mulch. Only the heartwood and sapwood are useful for making pulp. Bark contains relatively few useful fibres and is removed and used as fuel to provide steam for use in the pulp mill. Most pulping processes require that the wood be chipped and screened to provide uniform sized chips.


There are a number of different processes which can be used to separate the wood fibres:

Mechanical pulp

Manufactured grindstones with embedded silicon carbide or aluminum oxide can be used to grind small wood logs called "bolts" to make stone groundwood pulp (SGW). If the wood is steamed prior to grinding it is known as pressure groundwood pulp (PGW). Most modern mills use chips rather than logs and ridged metal discs called refiner plates instead of grindstones. If the chips are just ground up with the plates, the pulp is called refiner mechanical pulp (RMP) and if the chips are steamed while being refined the pulp is called thermomechanical pulp (TMP). Steam treatment significantly reduces the total energy needed to make the pulp and decreases the damage (cutting) to fibres. Mechanical pulps are used for products that require less strength, such as newsprint and paperboards.

Mechanical pulping process. Author: Annapoyhonen

Mechanical pulping process.

Thermomechanical pulp

Thermomechanical pulp is pulp produced by processing wood chips using heat (thus thermo) and a mechanical refining movement (thus mechanical). It is a two stage process where the logs are first stripped of their bark and converted into small chips. These chips have a moisture content of around 25-30% and a mechanical force is applied to the wood chips in a crushing or grinding action which generates heat and water vapour and softens the lignin thus separating the individual fibres. The pulp is then screened and cleaned, any clumps of fibre are reprocessed. This process gives a high yield of fibre from the timber (around 95%) and as the lignin has not been removed, the fibres are hard and rigid.[14]

Chemithermomechanical pulp

Wood chips can be pretreated with sodium carbonate, sodium hydroxide, sodium sulfite and other chemicals prior to refining with equipment similar to a mechanical mill. The conditions of the chemical treatment are much less vigorous (lower temperature, shorter time, less extreme pH) than in a chemical pulping process since the goal is to make the fibres easier to refine, not to remove lignin as in a fully chemical process. Pulps made using these hybrid processes are known as chemithermomechanical pulps (CTMP).

Chemical pulp

Main articles: Kraft process, Sulfite process, and Soda pulping
See also: Dissolving pulp, Fluff pulp, NBSK, and SBSK (pulp)
Chemical pulp is produced by combining wood chips and chemicals in large vessels known as digesters where heat and the chemicals break down the lignin, which binds the cellulose fibres together, without seriously degrading the cellulose fibres. Chemical pulp is used for materials that need to be stronger or combined with mechanical pulps to give a product different characteristics. The kraft process is the dominant chemical pulping method, with sulfite process being second. Historically soda pulping was the first successful chemical pulping method.Recycled pulpMain articles: Paper recycling and Deinking

Recycled pulp is also called deinked pulp (DIP). DIP is recycled paper which has been processed by chemicals, thus removing printing inks and other unwanted elements and freed the paper fibres. The process is called deinking.

DIP is used as raw material in papermaking. Many newsprint, toilet paper and facial tissue grades commonly contain 100% deinked pulp and in many other grades, such as lightweight coated for offset and printing and writing papers for office and home use, DIP makes up a substantial proportion of the furnish.

Organosolv pulping

Main article: organosolv

Organosolv pulping uses organic solvents at temperatures above 140 °C to break down lignin and hemicellulose into soluble fragments. The pulping liquor is easily recovered by distillation.

Alternative pulping methods

Research is under way to develop biological pulping, similar to chemical pulping but using certain species of fungi that are able to break down the unwanted lignin, but not the cellulose fibres. This could have major environmental benefits in reducing the pollution associated with chemical pulping. The pulp is bleached using chlorine dioxide stage followed by neutralization and calcium hypochlorite.The oxidizing agent in either case oxidizes and destroys the dyes formed from the tannins of the wood and accentuated (reinforced) by sulfides present in it.


Main article: Bleaching of wood pulp

The pulp produced up to this point in the process can be bleached to produce a white paper product. The chemicals used to bleach pulp have been a source of environmental concern, and recently the pulp industry has been using alternatives to chlorine, such as chlorine dioxide, oxygen, ozone and hydrogen peroxide.

Alternatives to wood pulp

See also: Tree-free paper and Fibre crop

Today, some people and groups advocate using field crop fibre or agricultural residues instead of wood fibre as being more sustainable. However, wood is also a renewable resource, with about 90% of pulp coming from plantations or reforested areas.[10] Non-wood fibre sources account for about 5-10% of global pulp production, for a variety of reasons, including seasonal availability, problems with chemical recovery, brightness of the pulp etc.[6][15] Non-wood pulp processing requires a high use of water and energy.[16]

Nonwovens are in some applications alternatives to paper made from wood pulp, like filter paper or tea bags.

Comparison of typical feedstocks used in pulping[17]
Carbohydrates65-80 %50-80 %
40-45 %30-45 %
23-35 %20-35 %
Lignin20-30 %10-25 %
Extractives2-5 %5-15 %
Proteins< 0.5 %5-10 %
Inorganics0.1-1 %0.5-10 %
< 0.1 %0.5-7 %

Market pulp

Market pulp is any variety of pulp that is produced in one location, dried and shipped to another location for further processing.[18] Important quality parameters for pulp not directly related to the fibres are brightness, dirt levels, viscosity and ash content. In 2004 about it was produced about 55 milion metric tons of market pulp.[19]

Air dry pulp

Air dry pulp is the most common form to sell pulp. This is pulp dried to about 10 % moisture content. It is normally delivered as sheeted bales of 250 kg. The reason to leave 10 % moisture in the pulp is that this minimizes the fibre to fibre bonding and makes it easier to disperse the pulp in water for further processing to paper.[18]

Roll pulp

Roll pulp or reel pulp is the most common delivery form of pulp to non tradtitional pulp markets. Fluff pulp is normally shipped on rolls (reels). This pulp is dried to 5 - 6 % moisture content. At the customer this is going to a comminution process to prepare for further processing.[18]

Flash dried pulp

Some pulps are flash dried. This is done by pressing the pulp to about 50% moisture content and then let it fall trough silos that are 15–17 m high. Gas fired hot air is the normal heat source. The temperature is well above the char point of cellulose, but large amount of moisture in the fibre wall and lumen prevents the fibres from being incinerated. It is often not dried down to 10 % moisture (air dry). The bales are not as densely packed as air dry pulp.[18]

Environmental concerns

Main article: Environmental issues with paper

The major environmental impacts of producing wood pulp come from its impact on forest sources and from its waste products.

Forest resources

Main article: Forest management

The impact of logging to provide the raw material for wood pulp is an area of intense debate. Modern logging practices, using forest management seek to provide a reliable, renewable source of raw materials for pulp mills. The practice of clear cutting is a particularly sensitive issue since it is a very visible effect of logging. Reforestation, the planting of tree seedlings on logged areas, has also been criticized for decreasing biodiversity because reforested areas are monocultures. Logging of old growth forests accounts for less than 10% of wood pulp,[10] but is one of the most controversial issues.

Effluents from pulp mills

Main articles: Kraft process, Sulfite process, and Bleaching of wood pulp

The process effluents are treated in a biological effluent treatment plant, which guarantees that the effluents are not toxic in the recipient.

Mechanical pulp is not a major cause for environmental concern since most of the organic material is retained in the pulp, and the chemicals used (hydrogen peroxide and sodium dithionite) produce benign byproducts (water and sodium sulfate (finally), respectively).

Chemical pulp mills, especially kraft mills, are energy self-sufficient and very nearly closed cycle with respect to inorganic chemicals.

Bleaching with chlorine produces large amounts of organochlorine compounds, including dioxins.[20]

Odor problems

The kraft pulping reaction in particular releases foul-smelling compounds. The hydrogen sulfide reagent that degrades lignin structure also causes some demethylation to produce methanethiol, dimethyl sulfide and dimethyl disulfide. These compounds have extremely low odor thresholds and disagreeable smells. The same compounds are released in microbial decay, or into e.g. Camembert cheese, although the kraft process is a chemical one and does not involve any microbial degradation.


The main applications for pulp are paper and board production. The furnish of pulps used depends on the quality on the finished paper. Important quality paprameters are wood furnish, brightness, viscosity, extractives, dirt count and strength.

Chemical pulps are used for making nanocellulose.

Speciality pulp grades have many other applications. Dissolving pulp is used in making regenerated cellulose that is used textile and cellophane produciton. It is also used to make cellulose derivatives. Fluff pulp is used in diapers, feminine hygiene products and nonwovens.

Paper production

Main article: Fourdrinier machine

The Fourdrinier Machine is the basis for most modern papermaking, and it has been used in some variation since its conception. It accomplishes all the steps needed to transform a source of wood pulp into a final paper product.


In 2009, NBSK pulp sold for $650 /ton in the United States. The market had experienced a drop in price due to falling demand when newspapers reduced their size, in part, as a result of the recession.[21]

See also

  1. ^ abE. Sjöström (1993). Wood Chemistry: Fundamentals and Applications. Academic Press.
  2. ^Burger, Peter. Charles Fenerty and his Paper Invention. Toronto: Peter Burger, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9783318-1-8 pp.25-30
  3. ^ abcBiermann, Christopher J. (1993). Handbook of Pulping and Papermaking. San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-097360-X.
  4. ^"History of Paper". Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  5. ^"Pulp production growing in new areas (Global production)". Metso Corporation. September 5, 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2007-10-13.
  6. ^ ab"Overview of the Wood Pulp Industry". Market Pulp Association. 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-13.
  7. ^[citation needed]
  8. ^Sixta, Herbert, ed (2006). Handbook of pulp. 1. Winheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH. p. 9. ISBN 3-527-30999-9.
  9. ^"Error: no <code>|title=</code> specified when using {{Cite web}}". www.triplepundit.com/2007/10/askpablo-how-many-trees-does-my-office-kill/.
  10. ^ abcMartin, Sam (2004). "Paper Chase". Ecology Communications, Inc.. Archived from the original on 2007-06-19. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
  11. ^"Certification Tracking products from the forest to the shelf". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
  12. ^Conservatree.com
  13. ^DOA.state.wi.us
  14. ^ abIggesund Paperboard AB (2008). Paperboard the Iggesund Way. p. 15.
  15. ^Judt, Manfred (Oct-Dec 2001). "Nonwoody Plant Fibre Pulps". Inpaper International. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  16. ^News.southcn.com
  17. ^Stenius, Per (2000) "1" PForest Products ChemistryPapermaking Science and Technology 3 Finland: Fapet Oy ISBN 952-5216-03-9 page 29
  18. ^ abcdNanko, Hirko; Button, Allan; Hillman, Dave (2005). The World of Market Pulp. Appleton, Wisconsin, USA: WOMP, LLC. pp. 2–3. ISBN 0-615-13013-5.
  19. ^Nanko, Hirko; Button, Allan; Hillman, Dave (2005). The World of Market Pulp. Appleton, Wisconsin, USA: WOMP, LLC. p. 4. ISBN 0-615-13013-5.
  20. ^"Effluents from Pulp Mills using Bleaching - PSL1". ISBN 0-662-18734-2 DSS. Health Canada. 1991. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
  21. ^Lefebrvre, Paul (February 4, 2009). Wood products market looks soft. the Chronicle.

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