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Cloquet mill converts to clothing pulp

CLOQUET, Minn. (AP) — The largest paper mill in Minnesota has successfully converted to producing a new type of pulp that's offering hope to similar plants struggling with a decline in the paper industry.

Sappi Fine Paper, in Cloquet, spent $170 million to convert its production to chemical cellulose, a pulp generally sold to textile mills to make clothing. Sappi said the Cloquet mill has reached its goal of producing 1,050 tons each day.

"What it really is, is a new beginning for Minnesota forests," said Rick Dwyer, Sappi's plant manager in Cloquet. "It's something that clearly is headed in the opposite direction of paper."

RBC Capital Markets predicts demand for chemical cellulose is projected to increase 50 percent by 2017, according to the Star Tribune ( ).

Work on the conversion project started in 2011 and the plant's customers first started receiving chemical cellulose, which is also called dissolving pulp, in August. The mill will continue to make high-end paper using pulp from other mills and could swing back to producing pulp for paper in Cloquet if the market shifts dramatically, but has no plans to do so, Dwyer said.

Dissolving pulp can be used to make rayon, a fabric used in dresses or suit jacket linings.

"The clothing companies have gotten very good at making blends," Dwyer said. "That's what we're going to see a lot of."

Sappi already has a plant in South Africa producing chemical cellulose for textiles. But the conversion in Cloquet is the first of its kind in Minnesota, and the first large-scale commitment to a new type of forest product in the region.

"This is really the first step into a new generation of products, converting wood fiber into another product," said Wayne Brandt, executive vice president of Minnesota Forest Industries, a trade group. "We may look back in 10 or 15 years and say this was the jumping-off point."

Companies have closed more than 100 American paper mills since 2000, according to the Center for Paper Business and Industry Studies at Georgia Tech University.


Information from: Star Tribune,

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