Suzano's Maranhão project comes on stream

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Suzano's Maranhão project comes on stream

February 09, 2015 - 04:51

BRUSSELS, Jan 1, 2015 (PPI Magazine) - Suzano's pulp production has increased by 1.5 million tonnes with the successful start up of the Maranhão Project

PPI was granted an exclusive interview with Ernesto Pousada, COO of Brazilian giant Suzano Pulp and Paper, to talk about one of the most interesting projects the pulp world has seen for some time - the Maranhão Project. The project opens up a new frontier for pulp in the north of Brazil, with the mill producing 1.5 million tonnes/yr of eucalyptus market pulp. The trailblazing greenfield project is the first of its kind in the north of Brazil and represents an investment of over $2.3 billion and has seen Suzano's pulp capacity expand to 4.7 million tonnes/yr. 


PPI: Can you tell us why you chose this specific site for the Maranhão Project at Imperatiz and provide a time-line from the feasibility study to the start of the project. 

Pousada: During the years of 2007 and 2008, Suzano worked in the development of a strategic plan that pointed out some potential growth routes based on its competitive strengths and market opportunities. One of the growth routes identified to support Suzano's strategy for the pulp business was the construction of a new pulp mill. After a careful analysis of many potential locations all over Brazil, the city of Imperatriz, in Maranhão State, was the selected site. The main reasons for that choice were the price and availability of land, timber availability, the strategic logistic solution (closer to the European and North American markets) and tax incentives. Thus, in the middle of 2008, Suzano announced its plan to build this new pulp mill, with the startup in December of 2013. 

What were both the advantages and the challenges of being located in this area? 

The main advantages that led us to choose Imperatriz were: 

  • Land availability with low price due to the lack of competition, since Suzano was the first company to build a pulp mill in that region;
  • Timber availability for the first years of operation through Vale Florestar, a eucalyptus forest that already existed in the region;
  • Strategic positioning from a logistics standpoint due to the proximity to US and European markets;
  • Pre-existing rail network and port solution in the region to support the outbound strategy;
  • Tax incentives offered by the local government.
  • The main challenges we faced were:
  • Unfavorable weather conditions. In Imperatriz, there are two distinct seasons: a rainy season that goes from October to March and a dry season from April to September;
  • Distance from major technological hubs;
  • Lack of local infrastructure, requiring additional investment;
  • Lack of qualified local labor for the construction and operation of the mill.


What was the timeline of the project, and what challenges did you have to overcome? 

Suzano was performing site preparation activities to make the land ready for planting on March 31st, 2011 and started up the mill on December 31st, 2013, totalling a cycle of two years and nine months of field activities. 

The transportation of special equipment, usually very large and/or heavy pieces, to the mill was one of the big challenges. Some of the equipment (for instance, the turbo generators) included high precision equipment manufactured abroad and any damage during its transportation would cause schedule delays and additional costs. To mitigate this risk, we hired a specialized consultancy company to map the best ground routes, we made some necessary improvements on these routes and we also had a partnership with Federal Highway Patrol to monitor the activities. 

We can also mention as a challenge the construction of a 28-km railway to connect our mill to the pre-existing railway network and the necessity to constantly provide and keep access to the site in the raining season. We had resources allocated for that during the whole project. 

Could you explain the raw material supply advantages, ie: fiber and water? Could you also tell us about the fiber species, and how much wood the mill needs a year? 

Since we are 6 km from the Tocantins River, one of the biggest rivers in Brazil and a very stable river, water supply is an advantage for this facility. 

Regarding wood, Suzano had started experiments with some eucalyptus species in the region back in the 80's. This knowledge allowed Suzano to find the best adapted genetic materials for Maranhão´s soil and weather. Nowadays, our forestry planted areas are formed by more than 20 different clones and annually the mill needs around 6 million m3 of wood that gets to the mill in logs. 

The current average distance between the forests and the mill is 150 km. 

Can you tell us about the consultants on the project, Pöyry and why you chose them?

In order to successfully implement this project, Suzano decided to form a qualified and experienced team, hiring the best companies in the market. Pöyry was a natural choice for its knowhow and experience, and was responsible for the conceptual and basic engineering of this project as well as for the detailed engineering and implementation management of the BOP (Balance of Plant) scope. We also hired Guimar (now Jacobs Guimar) for the implementation activities and quality inspections, interacting with Pöyry, Valmet and other companies. Progen had the same nature of work as Guimar, but related to the railway extension and seaport projects. 

Why did Suzano select Metso (now Valmet) and Metso Automation, as well as Siemens, Veolia and Centroprojeckt?

Valmet was the main Suzano's partner in this project, responsible for building, in an EPC contract model, all the main process islands plus all the mill automation system. The option for Valmet was due to the technical knowhow, implementation capacity, previous experience and commercial conditions. Siemens was responsible for providing the two turbo generators and the electrical power distribution of the mill. Veolia was responsible for building the water treatment plants, while Centroprojekt was responsible for the effluent treatment plant. 

How did the project go? Did all the suppliers work well together considering the challenges? 

One of the reasons for the success of Maranhão project was the ability of all main players (partners/suppliers and Suzano) to work together. Since the beginning of the project, a committee was created with the participation of Suzano and its main suppliers to manage any issue related to organizational climate of the project. This turned out to be a very good practice and, as a result, we had no general strike during the whole project, something that was remarkable. 

During the peak of erection activities, the level of interference in the central area of the mill was very high - too much work going on at the same time at the same area with cranes and other heavy machines sometimes blocking some internal roads. Suzano, Valmet and Pöyry, with the participation of the main companies involved, conducted a weekly meeting to manage these interferences in order to minimize their impacts. It worked well due to the collaboration of all players. 

Another success factor was having engineering, construction, industrial and partners/suppliers' teams highly qualified, committed to the project, with the right expertise in their areas and with power to respond to adverse circumstances. 

Does the mill have anything ‘special' in regards to technology that might be unusual, or particularly advanced? 

Maranhão unit adopts the best market practices in the pulp manufacturing process, which includes the use of the best technology available and top tier equipment suppliers such as Valmet and Siemens. The mill has two pulp dryers and two lime kilns that provide a higher operational flexibility and reliability. The modern distributed control system (DCS) allows an overview of all the mill operation at a main control room. Besides this overall integration, certain process areas (such as the wood handling and pulp dryers) have their local control room. The production performance of the mill can be accessed online at real time, anywhere, through a special application that was developed with this purpose. 

How was start up, did everything go according to plan? 

Start-up happened at the time announced to the market (Q4, 2013). We started up the mill loading chips on the Impbin on Dec 27, with the first bale being produced on Dec 30. Thanks to the high level of commitment, qualification and experience of the suppliers and internal teams we made it a reality. 

From the early phase of construction, commissioning had been discussed and treated as a project critical phase. For Suzano it was mandatory to perform complete and through commissioning tests in order to anticipate any technical problems, increasing the chances of success at meeting the learning curve. Suzano always stated that it would not accept scope reduction of commissioning activities even in a schedule delay situation. This was well received by our partners/suppliers who prepared themselves for the task, bringing at the right moment qualified people to conduct commissioning and start up activities. 

How is the startup curve? Has speed and quality been maximized yet, if not, when do you expect the designed production target to be hit? 

The mill is going through the learning curve as expected. Our goal is to reach between 1 and 1.1 million tonnes by the end of this year (2014) and we have already reached the full speed level, including a record break of 5,046 tonnes in one day in October. The pulp produced has met the quality standards, with room for optimization of chemical consumption and others. 

How the power side of the business is, are you able to take advantage of an energy surplus? 

The mill was designed to produce an energy surplus of 100 MW. According to the learning curve, we are reaching new records of energy generation. The surplus of energy produced is being exported to the national grid. 

The local government must be really pleased that such a huge development has been built in the region. 

Since the beginning, Suzano had the support from the local government to build the mill there. Clearly, this project contributed significantly to the economic and social development of the region, generating employment, increasing tax collection, qualifying people, and preserving the environment. Our actions and projects were always developed with the partnership of local leaderships, including NGOs, government, universities and communities, through this partnership we defined our line of work: education, social development, poverty reduction and environmental conservation. If we consider the past year, Suzano invested more than R6 million in social and environmental projects in Maranhão State. We used resources to renovate public schools and build communitarian libraries, implement a conservation area to work with environmental education and research, buy equipment that were donated to the local hospital and the police department, among other actions. 

How many people does the mill employ? 

There are around 1,000 people working directly in the operation, maintenance and logistics of the mill, and other 2,000 working directly at the forestry operation. 

How do you go about getting skilled workers for the mill?

In order to get skilled workers to run the mill, Suzano took early actions to ensure this. We developed a training program to qualify pulp and paper technicians and maintenance technicians, where 370 people were trained, qualified and sent to other operating units for a six months practicing period. After that, they returned to Imperatriz mill to support the commissioning phase and the startup. We also developed a training program for harvest operators, where 285 operators were hired. 

Another action was the creation of the industrial management team two years before the startup. Suzano also developed a program to attract and retain technical and qualified (operations) teams, which has proved to be effective so far. 

As we all know, there is no such thing as a perfect mill, there are usually some bottlenecks somewhere, even in state of the art developments like this one. Where would you say a bottle neck might be at the Imperatriz Mill. 

Currently, our bottleneck is in the recausticizing area. We are already working with Valmet to increase the capacity of this area. Our goal is to maximize pulp production by consistently debottlenecking the mill. 

Is there adequate land, utilities and raw materials for a second phase expansion of the mill in the future, if required? 

The layout used in the Imperatriz mill considered an eventual future pulp line. Some utilities plants were built over capacity or with provisions for capacity increase to accommodate a higher production of the current line after debottlenecking, but, for a second phase expansion it will be necessary additional investments. The main challenge for this would be the duplication of our forestry base without increasing significantly the average distance between the forests and the mill. 

Can you sum up what this project means for both Suzano and the local community of Imperatriz? 

This project was of great importance for Suzano as well as for the development of the Northeast region in Brazil. With the addition of 1.5 million tonnes to our annual market pulp production (that now stands at 3.4 million tonnes), Suzano firmed its place among the top world pulp producers, becoming the second largest manufacturer of BEKP in the world. 

The Northeast region in Brazil is less developed when compared with the Southeast and South areas in the country. Investments like this one contribute significantly for the economic and social development of the region. To make the project feasible, Suzano and the local government worked together to improve the local infrastructure including the roads and railways and the project itself fomented the growth of the city infrastructure services (hotels, restaurants and real estate). After the conclusion of the project, the city and surrounding areas are better prepared and more attractive to other investments. 

Social responsibility has always been taken seriously and included in the daily operations and relationships with our stakeholders - government, community-based organizations, and the society in general. This happened primarily in the transparency of dialogues conducted with permanent residents and existing organizations in their living areas since the beginning of Maranhão project. Suzano adopted the position to understand and care about the way of life and social relations of the people in the region. The intention was to have a natural and harmonious insertion of Suzano's operation in this region. 

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