The pulp and paper (P&P) industry is traditionally known to be a large contributor to environmental pollution due its large consumptions of energy and chemicals. Enzymatic processing, however, offers potential opportunities for changing the industry towards more environmentally friendly and efficient operations compared to the conventional methods. The aims of the present study has been to investigate whether the enzyme technology is a more environmentally sound alternative than the conventional ways of producing paper. The study addresses five enzyme applications by quantitative means and discusses the environmental potential of a range of other enzyme applications by qualitative means. LCA is used as analytical tool and modelling is facilitated in SimaPro software. Foreground LCA data are production/ company specific and collected from P&P technology service providers, specific P&P companies and P&P researchers. The background data on energy systems, auxiliary chemicals, etc. are primarily taken from the ecoinvent database. The study shows that fossil energy consumption and potential environmental impacts (global warming, acidification, nutrient enrichment, photochemical smog formation) induced by enzyme production are low compared with the impacts that they save when applied in bleach boosting, refining, pitch control, deinking, and stickies control. The general explanation is that small amounts of enzyme provide the same function as large amounts of chemicals and that enzymatic processes generally require less fossil energy inputs than conventional processes. Data quality assessments and sensitivity analyses indicate that this observation is robust for all processes except deinking, although the results are subject to uncertainty and much variation. The environmental improvements that can be achieved by application of enzymatic solutions in the P&P industry are promising. To get a greater penetration of enzymatic solutions in the market and to harvest the environmental advantages of biotechnological inventions, it is recommended that enzymatic solutions should be given more attention in, for instance, 'Best Available Technology' notes within the framework of the European Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC).
International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2008, Vol 13, Issue 2, p. 124-132