A mill in Cloquet, Minnesota that has been producing paper-grade pulp for the last 113 years will begin converting its facility so it can make the switch to producing dissolving pulp.
The conversion process won’t begin until next month, but Rick Dwyer, the managing director of the Cloquet mill, says the mill should be fully converted by May 2013.
“It’s an extremely fast track. It’s kind of scary how fast, actually,’’ he told the Duluth New Tribune.
Sappi Fine Paper, the company that owns the mill, announced in November that dissolving pulp would be part of their global strategy to diversify from lower-profit paper pulp into the higher-profit pulp used to make textiles.
“While the global market is crowded with paper pulp, especially with new South American mills coming on line, Sappi projects a huge shortage of chemical cellulose for rayon over the next 20 years,” the New Tribune reported.
According to reports issued by Sappi, nearly 3 million tons of rayon were produced globally in 2012 and the expect that number to double in the coming years. Because of this increase, the global demand for dissolving pulp has also increased. In 2010, approximately 4 million tons were produced for worldwide markets but Mike Schultz, who is heading the mill conversion project at Cloquet for Sappi, says that will expand to 17.3 million tons by 2030 “and it still won’t meet demand.”
Once the conversion process is complete, the century-old mill will be focused solely on the new product.
“Our goal at the end of the day is to produce 100 percent chemical cellulose. That’s our most profitable future,’’ said Dwyer. “You can move back and forth (between pulp types); it’s possible. … But we really feel like the future is going to be converting and staying with dissolved pulp’’ aimed at textiles.
The move from paper to dissolving pulp was one that reflected the changing industry and the need for mills such as the one in Cloquet to adapt to new market demands.
“We aren’t waiting until we get into trouble with (paper pulp) before taking action. We’re looking way ahead on this,’’ said Schultz. “I think, if we weren’t doing this, there may have been five, maybe 10 years left in this mill.”
Sappi is already one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chemical cellulose, though most of their production takes place in South Africa, where the company is based. The Cloquet mill will mark the first chemical cellulose plant in North America for them.