Sixteen months after breaking ground to expand and repurpose part of its Cloquet pulp and paper mill, Sappi last week ushered local officials and reporters through its modernized facilities.
“Our goal was to be at budget by the end of our fiscal year on Oct. 1 and we made that goal, so we’re celebrating,” said Cloquet mill Managing Director Rick Dwyer.
The $170 million investment allowed Sappi to add a new product at the 114-year-old facility. Using pulp, it manufactures a material branded “Specialized Cellulous.” It is used in a variety of consumer goods, said Deece Hannigan, Sappi vice president of procurement and fiber resources.
“It’s one of the most versatile materials on the face of the Earth,” he said, and can be made into textile fiber, added to foods as fat replacements, added to pharmaceuticals as a binder, put into refreshments such as milk shakes as a thickener, converted into hard plastics and become a component in explosives.
“It’s a fast-growing market,” he said, expanding about 8 percent a year. Demand for new clothing is exceeding the supply of cotton, and pulp-based cellulous is becoming a prime replacement.
Once manufactured, Sappi’s “Specialized Cellulous” is collected into bales, shipped by rail to the West Coast then transferred to maritime vessels for shipment across the Pacific, with Asian countries being a prime market.
Virtually every aspect of the mill was affected by the reinvestment, said Mike Schultz, managing director of the Cloquet conversion project. The company added two digesters, a modified pulp dryer and heat exchanger, all while continuing to operate. Sappi will remain in the region’s paper business and also made improvements to its two paper machines.
“Sappi has been an outstanding corporate citizen,” said Mayor Bruce Ashgren, making the largest investment in a Minnesota paper mill in many years.