Saiccor Mill expansion and upgrade making way for new opportunities and greater sustainability

Thousands of workers are labouring around the clock putting the finishing touches to the ZAR7.7 billion Project Vulindlela upgrade at the Sappi Saiccor Mill in Umkomaas on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.

The upgrade and expansion projects, collectively dubbed Project Vulindlela, have resulted in the construction of one of the biggest dedicated dissolving pulp plants of its kind in the world and has meant a huge boost to the local economy. This expansion by the Sappi group answers President Ramaphosa’s call for investment into the South African economy by SA companies. 

The multi-billion investment, first announced and with work commencing in 2018, was spurred by global demand for dissolving pulp, particularly from garment manufacturers who use it in the production of viscose, although the pulp has multiple applications including in the food and pharmaceutical sectors. The Sappi Saiccor Mill has an enormous economic impact on the area it operates in. Of Sappi’s national workforce of close to 5,000 people, more than 1,200 are employed at Saiccor Mill. During Vulindlela’s construction, an additional 2,000 jobs were created to assemble the gargantuan structure.

Wayne Weston, Sappi’s Vulindlela Project Manager, said 30,000 tons of concrete and about half as much steel as was used to build the Eiffel Tower in Paris went into the upgrade. The new structure was essentially bolted onto the existing plant which continued operating. The new plant will boost the annual production capacity of dissolving pulp at Saiccor Mill by 110,000 tons to 890,000 tons per annum. 

Vulindlela is described as a ‘closed-loop system’ and improved technology means a reduction in fossil fuel emissions and an overall reduction in emissions through improved recovery processes. A reduction of waste to landfill will also be realised.
Craig Daniel

Sappi Saiccor General Manager, Dr Beverley Sukhdeo, said the investment in new technology increased production to cater for international demand for Sappi products, but it would also have a profound effect on sustainability.

“Our business is based on the value of unlocking natural resources in a way that is holistic; getting as much benefit from the tree as possible and working towards a circular economy. This extends from this plant right back to our nurseries where we find ways to grow trees better. It is about excellence all along the value chain from forests to mechanisms to better extract dissolving pulp to shipping our product to our customers.” 

Craig Daniel, who heads up Sappi Saiccor’s Environmental Management and Risk Department, said the new plant would reduce specific water consumption, improve effluent quality to sea and reduce sulphur dioxide emissions through a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels (coal). The new plant will also allow the mill to minimise its reliance on imported energy. Sappi has advanced environmental monitoring and is constantly working to reduce its impact. 

Vulindlela is described as a ‘closed-loop system’ and improved technology means a reduction in fossil fuel emissions and an overall reduction in emissions through improved recovery processes. A reduction of waste to landfill will also be realised.

Dr Tracy Wessels, Sappi’s General Manager for Group Sustainability & Research and Development, said Vulindlela was indicative of the company’s commitment to sustainability.

“We are a bioproducts company that uses sustainably-sourced wood. Our forests are fully sustainable and internationally certified. A third of our land is dedicated to conservation and we are committed to a 10% annual increase in biodiversity on our land. But, our sustainability extends well beyond our forests. Our entire raw materials supply comes from companies that have sustainable practices along their value chain. And our sustainability is also about people. We have a shared commitment to overcoming the social challenges we have in South Africa, especially in the communities we operate.”

When Project Vulindlela was first announced during the Presidential Investment Conference in 2018, Sappi said annual cost savings attributable would be at least ZAR300 million and foreign currency earnings would be about ZAR1.3 billion.

Read more here about dissolving pulp and viscose.


The Sappi Saiccor Mill situated in Umkomaas, KwaZulu-Natal hosted a high-level delegation from the office of the outgoing MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA), Ms Nomusa Dube-Ncube, as part of the KZN International Investment Conference.
Balancing the 3Ps at Saiccor Mill
Project Vulindlela is our multi-billion-rand expansion project to boost Saiccor Mill’s dissolving pulp (DP) capacity by 110,000 tons per annum. The project has significant benefits for people, the planet and prosperity in South Africa.
Saiccor Mill and wastewater
The world’s oceans are under increasing pressure, which is why it’s important to maintain marine biodiversity. That’s the overarching focus of the Saiccor Mill outfall monitoring programme.