One of the things highlighted by the COVID-pandemic was the confirmation that most of the range of Sappi products are essential and manufactured from a renewable natural resource; the other thing was that the company has the ability to be nimble and optimise profitability in ever changing markets, placing it in a favourable position to meet the needs of a world increasingly focused on sustainability.
Not only does the Vulindlela expansion programme provide a vital boost to the country’s economy at a particularly difficult time, it also brings the company closer towards attaining its priority SDGs. These priority United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been identified along with very specific action plans and formulated along with Sappi’s Thrive25 strategy – which commits the company to building a thriving world by unlocking the power of trees. By finding woodfibre alternatives for fossil-based products, Sappi believes that it supports a circular economy which is better for people and communities and for the planet that we inhabit.
The Vulindlela expansion project is a critical element for Sappi to reach its global commitment of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2025. Not only will CO2 emissions be halved and SO2 emissions be reduced by 35 per cent, but water use efficiency will also improve by 17 per cent, while waste to landfill will be reduced by a massive 48 per cent through the expansion.
Besides these undeniable environmental benefits that make a whole lot of sense, the company gains an additional production capacity of 110, 000 tons dissolving pulp (DP) per annum, and supports the growing need for this versatile product - marketed under the Verve brand - which is used in a myriad varied applications; from responsible fashion choices, to food applications, industrial products such as the cord used in tyres, to acetate, microcrystalline and other speciality products, to its recently proven ability to service a COVID-challenged world with pharmaceuticals, disinfectant wipes and hospital gowns in a sustainable, innovative manner.
In addition, the expansion creates an increased 120 permanent employment opportunities and will also save the company at least R300-million annually through improved and more efficient processes being implemented. This is good news for Sappi, but also positive news for the KwaZulu-Natal province, which gains an additional R1-billion per annum in direct benefit. During the build, an impressive 1,670 local community members benefited from the Vulindlela onboarding facility, and a permanent legacy is the Sappi Saiccor Skills Centre which now provides ongoing structured technical vocational skills training to increase employability and income generation for local unemployed youth.
The Vulindlela project will increase the mill’s production of DP from 780, 000 tons per annum to 890, 000 tonnes per annum. The expansion and upgrades will include a new evaporator, recovery boiler, and screening and washing plant, as well as upgrades to the bleach plant and pulp machines, improved recovery circuits and additional magnesium digesters. The upgrades to pulp machine 4, consisting of the screening plant, extended nip press, baling line and winder upgrade, have been successfully completed and are operational.