The Production of Eucalyptus Pulp in Brazil

Brazil produces annually about 14 million tons of wood pulp and should reach 20 million tons by the end of the decade. The largest producer of eucalyptus pulp in the world is Fibria, with an installed capacity of 5.2 million tons of pulp.  Another large player in the pulp and paper sector is Suzano. But the newly formed Eldorado Brasil, which incorporates Florestal Brasil, intends to become the number one.

The first cellulose unit of Eldorado Brasil, at this moment under construction in Três Lagoas (MS) and with a start-up scheduled for November this year, already benefits from the adverse moment of its competitors.

Pressured by rising debt and the downturn in global demand for pulp in late 2008 and early 2009 and then in the second half of 2011, Fibria and Suzano are struggling to define the schedule of their projects.
The most recently constructed factory for cellulose started its operations in March 2009. The plant also in Três Lagoas (MS) was built by Votorantim Celulose e Papel (VCP) and is one of the principal activities of Fibria, a company which resulted from the merger of VCP and Aracruz.

The pulp plant of Eldorado Brasil in Três Lagoas (MS) under construction

The next Brazilian project to come into operation after the Eldorado plant should be the unit of Suzano in Maranhão. The bleached pulp mill is already under construction in Imperatriz / Maranhão and must become in operation at the end of 2013. Two other units to be built in Maranhão for producing annually 1 million tonnes of eucalyptus pellets must be finished in 2014.

The pulp plant of Eldorado Brasil in Três Lagoas (MS) under construction - Photo Ricardo Ojeda

Due to the increasing demand for pulp in the world, the need for pulp and paper chemicals in Latin America is, consequently, projected to increase substantially over the next 15 years. And here comes in AkzoNobel with its unique Chemical island concept.

The pulp plant of Eldorado Brasil in Três Lagoas (MS) under construction

AkzoNobel invests close to €90 million in a new Chemical Island facility to supply the world’s largest pulp mill. The investment – AkzoNobel’s biggest ever in Latin America – is centred on further expanding Eka Chemicals’ sustainability focused Chemical Island concept. It will involve supplying, storing and handling all chemicals for the 1.5 million tons per year green field mill, which is being constructed by Eldorado Brasil in Três Lagoas. The mill is expected to come on stream in September 2012.

Furthermore AkzoNobel is planning to invest an additional €80 million in the construction of a Chemical Island facility, which will supply the Suzano Maranhão pulp mill. This is AkzoNobel’s second largest investment in Brazil in the past 12 months and further expands the Chemical Island concept.

That’s all nice and dandy, as far as the development of the Brazilian economy is concerned, but what about the environmental impact of these investments. Let’s first have a look at the chemical island concept, which AkzoNobel is promoting as a sustainable solution for the pulp industry and after that we have a look at the (so claimed) sustainable eucalyptus plantations.

Chemical island concept
Modern pulp mills normally generate excess utilities – such as steam and water from the pulping process – that can be used to fuel other manufacturing. To make use of this excess energy, Eka Chemicals, a subsidiary of AkzoNobel, developed a concept whereby it installs its sodium chlorate and chlorine dioxide plants inside or adjacent to a pulp mill. This way Eka helps customers manage their supply and handling of chemicals, while making use of the excess energy generated during paper and pulp production.

click image to enlarge

This solution has proven highly successful in Brazil, where the Eka Bahia plant at Veracel was the first fully operational unit to apply the Chemical Island concept. The plant was brought on line in 2005. Since then, several other customers have chosen this more environmentally sustainable partnership to safeguard their chemical production needs.

Eucalyptus as raw material for the pulp and paper industry
Eucalyptus is the most common short fibre source for pulpwood to make pulp. The fibre length of Eucalyptus is relatively short and uniform with low coarseness compared with other hardwoods commonly used as pulpwood. The fibres are slender, yet relatively thick walled, which results in uniform paper formation and high opacity, both important for all types of fine papers. The low coarseness is important for high quality coated papers. Eucalyptus is suitable for many tissue papers as the short and slender fibres give a high number of fibres per gram and the low coarseness contributes to softness.

Eucalyptus plantations in Brazil are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, covering millions of hectares and typically producing more than 40 m3/ha/yr of wood.  The world-record rates of production are sustained by intensive silviculture, including genetic selection of superior trees, clonal propagation, intensive site preparation, and fertilization.

Outside their natural ranges, eucalypti are both lauded for their beneficial economic impact on poor populations and criticised for being “invasive water-suckers”, leading to controversy over their total impact.

Mixing planting of eucalypti with raising stock

Nevertheless the Brazilian companies exploiting eucalypti as a resource for pulp and paper manufacturing are all certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). That certification is, by the way, characterized controversial when you visit the several webblogs about this subject.

I realize that the planting and harvesting of eucalypti have many disadvantages and hold a lot of risks.
I am well aware that Brazilian ONG’s, networks and action committees are protesting against the implementation of yet another industrial pulp activity. At the other hand I prefer to see an eucalyptus plantation above a soy field cut out of the rainforest (see photo below). Take into account that in addition to absorbing the excess carbon in the atmosphere, forestal planting preserves the soil from erosion and conserves the humidity of the environment, in contrast to soy fields which lead inevitably to erosion of the demolished rainforest. But that is for the next article.

Aereal view of an area deforested by soybean farmers in Novo Progreso, Para, Brazil - AP Photo/Alberto Cesar-GREENPEACE/HO