Pulp and paper producer Sappi has launched its second trial generation renewable sugar extraction demonstration plant at its Ngodwana mill, in Mpumulanga.
The demonstration plant, launched on Wednesday, in partnership with Finnish pulp and paper technology supplier Valmet, will explore and improve the extraction of biorenewable chemicals.
Sappi technology head Andrea Rossi explained that the demonstration plant would accelerate Sappi’s move into new business fields based on renewable raw materials.
“Sappi’s strategy includes seeking growth opportunities by extracting further value from existing production processes,” he said.
He added that the feedstock for the demonstration plant was supplied from the Ngodwana mill’s dissolving wood pulp plant, adding that the demonstration plant was the precursor for Sappi to consider construction of commercial plants at its dissolving wood pulp mills at Ngodwana and the US-based Cloquet mill.
The plant will also be used to improve the dissolving wood pulp manufacturing process, as well as make it possible to study the next-generation dissolving pulping process and test new ideas at mill scale.
“The main features we hope to demonstrate include increasing production, higher dissolving pulp quality, lowering operating cost and a new optimised hydrolysate revenue stream,” Rossi said.
He noted that the products from the demonstration plant would assist in the development of various beneficiation options for the different dissolving wood pulp lines operated by Sappi.”
Sappi Southern Africa CEO Alex Thiel added that Sappi had steadily been improving its operating performance and its business had delivered good margins over the past few years.
“We are working on maintaining and improving this strong momentum. In support of our growth strategy, we have started a number of significant projects that will increase our production capacity and capabilities in various areas,” he said.
He noted that the company was focused on growing dissolving wood pulp capacity in South Africa by 60 000 t to 100 000 t over the next two years and expand its lignin business and related biotech opportunities.
The demonstration plant continues Sappi’s strategic move into the biomaterials and bio-energy business fields by extracting more value from the pulp production process and is in response to the growing global demand for renewable materials with a lower carbon footprint.
“New revenue opportunities include possibilities to extract bio-based materials from the cooking plant pre-hydrolysate stream, such as hemicellulose sugars and lignin, for beneficiation to higher-value biochemicals,” Sappi biotech leader Louis Kruyshaar said.
The products under development will expand Sappi’s renewable biomaterials offering which include nanocellulose, biocomposites and lignosulphonate.
Kruyshaar noted that this technology would also enhance Sappi’s global competitiveness and cost leadership and strengthen its global production base.
“By working together, we have been able to combine our technology knowledge with Sappi’s process and market insight,” Valmet pulp and energy business line president Bertel Karlstedt noted.