Sappi's pulp mill in Cloquet, Minnesota, to be off line in April; company expects to run some paper pulp in May, then complete conversion to dissolving pulp for shipping to textile mills in China, Indonesia, India by late May

CLOQUET, Minnesota , March 30, 2013 () – The Sappi mill in Cloquet is nearing completion of its landmark $170 million conversion with a new type of pulp expected to roll off the line by late May.

The mill, which has been around for 115 years, is moving from producing pulp that's made into paper to making a new kind of pulp that will be made into textiles and on into clothing, baby wipes and bandages.

It's the first such mill in Minnesota and Sappi's first of its kind in North America.

Construction on the Sappi Fine Paper project started one year ago and the company hopes to have the mill fully converted and shipping chemical cellulose, also called dissolved pulp, to textile mills in China, Indonesia and India by late May.

Rick Dwyer, managing director of the Cloquet mill, said the entire pulp mill will shut down for April as the final touches of the retooling are finished. The company will make test runs of new equipment on the old paper pulp in May, with the final conversion to the new pulp expected by late May.

The new, purer form of cellulose fiber from the mill will be further processed into "viscose staple fiber" to make textiles like rayon, but which also can be made into cosmetics, pharmaceutical binders, diapers, cigarette filters, bandages, ingredients for ice cream and yogurt, and the screens on cell phones and computers.

The move by Sappi, first reported in 2011, is part of a global strategy to diversify from lower-profit paper pulp into the higher-profit pulp used to make textiles.

South Africa-based Sappi will continue to make paper in Cloquet, but once the pulp mill is converted to chemical cellulose pulp the paper plant in Cloquet will have to buy its pulp from someone else. And the mill won't be selling pulp for papermaking to other paper manufacturers.

The mill change won't add much to the 720 employees at the mill, but it's expected to add decades to the mill's viability as the community's largest economic driver.

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(c)2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)

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