Minnesota Mill Switches From Paper To Textiles

Sappi Fine Paper, which has been making pulp for 113 years, is embarking on a $170 million project to make textiles like rayon, which is in high demand.

CLOQUET, Minn. (AP) β€” With demand for paper declining in the electronic age, a Cloquet company that has been making pulp for paper mills for 113 years is converting to serve the textile industry.

Sappi Fine Paper has secured permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to begin construction on a $170 million project to convert its mill. The project is the first of its kind in Minnesota, according to the Duluth News Tribune (http://bit.ly/wsm8wN ).

Instead of sending its pulp to papermakers, the mill will convert wood to a purer cellulose fiber to make textiles like rayon, which can be made into bandages, diapers, cigarette filters, cell phone screens and many other products.

"Paper demand is not as strong, particularly for the higher grade of paper made at the mill," said Wayne Brandt, executive vice president of Minnesota Forest Industries, a trade group for the forest products industry. "That has been largely driven by the recession and somewhat by the electronic distribution of information."

Sappi hopes to have the mill fully converted and begin shipping chemical cellulose, also called dissolved pulp, to textile mills in China, Indonesia and India by May 2013.

The company employs about 760 people in Cloquet. The conversion should secure the future of the mill, according to the company.

"We aren't waiting until we get into trouble with (paper pulp) before taking action. We're looking way ahead on this," said Mike Schultz, who is heading the mill conversion project for Sappi. "I think, if we weren't doing this, there may have been five, maybe 10 years left in this mill."

It's Sappi's first chemical cellulose plant in North America. The company already is the world's largest manufacturer of chemical cellulose at plants in South Africa, where it is moving to expand capacity.

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