BRUSSELS, May 20, 2013 (RISI) - The UK's Manchester Ship Canal officially opened in January 1894 after a seven year construction period. It is an engineering feat of monumental proportions and is clearly one of the greatest technological achievements of the Victorian age. The canal connects the City of Manchester to the open sea, a distance of 40 miles. It is still the longest river navigation canal in the world and remains the world's eighth-longest ship canal, only slightly shorter than the Panama Canal in Central America. Its introduction was a major factor in Manchester and the surrounding Lancashire towns becoming major centres of trade over the following century.
Turn the clock forwards 110 years and, yet again, great technological strides are taking place alongside the Manchester Ship Canal. On April 24, SAICA's new recycled paper mill was officially opened by the UK's Business and Energy minister Michael Fallon. Alongside many local and regional dignitaries the event was also attended by the British Ambassador to Spain, Giles Paxman and president of SAICA Ramon Alejandro. The new £300 million PM 11 containerboard mill is situated alongside the Manchester Ship Canal in Partington, a small town just to the west of Manchester. Papermaking is a long-established tradition in Partington as paper has been made in the town since 1756. The new SAICA mill will produce 450,000 tonnes of recycled containerboard each year from 100% recovered fiber. The mill began to produce commercial quality containerboard last year and all systems have been tested and production increased since that time. The cost of the new mill forms part of a £500 million ($750 million) investment by SAICA in the UK. The mill is now operating at full capacity and can produce around 8,000 tonnes of material per week in substances from 75 - 135 g/m².
PM 11's sustainability claims are impressive. The company's core activity, the manufacturing of recycled paper for corrugated packaging, is essentially sustainable as it only uses recovered paper as its main raw material. The site is FSC and PEFC accredited. The new machine produces world-leading, low basis weight performance papers used in corrugated packaging - minimizing the amount of water and electricity consumption per tonne of paper produced. It employs state-of-the-art technologies to minimize the environmental impact of producing containerboard papers and is designed to use 40% less water and 50% less electricity per tonne of paper than the industry's reference points (BREF and BAT). When fully operational, PM 11, supplied by Metso (see PPI May 2012), will reduce carbon emissions by 84,011 tonnes/yr - the equivalent of taking 28,000 cars off the road each year. This figure is based on The Carbon Trust's published CO2 emission figures for the average petrol car in the UK driving the UK-average 14,500 km per year. With the UK currently exporting a total of 4,000,000 tonnes of recovered paper to Asia (mainly China) every year and releasing between 154 and 213 kg of of CO2 for each tonne transported, any opportunity to recycle UK-based recovered paper in the country is welcome. The Partington operation recycles around 450,000 tonnes of used paper to produce 400,000 tonnes/yr of lightweight performance paper for use in corrugated packaging - reducing the amount of recovered paper sent to China by 11.25%.
Reducing PM 11's energy consumption is very important for SAICA. Not only does it provide a reduction in the cost base, but it also reduces the environmental impacts of making the paper, improving SAICA's sustainability and reducing their customers' carbon footprints. The combined heat and power (CHP) plant at PM 11 uses biogas produced on site to provide its steam and electricity requirements and also generates a surplus of electricity, which is exported to the national grid. The use of CHP at PM 11 saves approximately 7,300 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
In addition to the CHP plant, PM 11 also has a small energy recovery boiler to further reduce the environmental impact of the paper mill and avoid the need to send these residual materials for land spreading or environmentally unsustainable landfill sites, with associated transport implications. The energy recovery boiler is a small but important part of the overall process and ensures that SAICA maximizes the use of all the raw material, minimizes its energy needs and minimizes the disposal of residues to landfill. The amount of material left for traditional disposal is significantly reduced.
In total the energy efficiency for PM 11 will be nearly 80% - compared with a traditional power station's energy efficiency of only 30%. These high levels of efficiency reduce PM 11's carbon emissions and avoid the import of comparatively inefficiently produced power from the national grid.
PM 11 generates around 33-37 MW of electricity and 75-90 tonnes of steam per hour. Around 21-24 MW of electricity and 75-90 tonnes/hr of steam are required for the mill's operation. The balance of the electricity generated (enough to power around 20,000 homes) will be delivered to the national grid.
PM 11 is also designed to be as water efficient as possible. The water drawn from the Manchester Ship Canal is thoroughly cleaned and returned to it, in accordance with strict conditions set by the UK's Environment Agency.
At the opening ceremony Business and Energy minister Fallon said, "This cutting edge facility shows how state of the art technology and innovation can help drive growth. It is a real boost for the economy and will create new jobs for Partington and the local area. We are becoming an increasingly green economy and starting to reduce the impact of industry on the environment. So it's promising to see the new facility will prevent thousands of tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere."
SAICA president Ramon Alejandro commented, ‘We are thrilled that our world-leading facility is now running at full capacity and are proud to officially open PM 11. Our customers deserve the best and we have been determined to deliver a facility that produces high quality performance papers. This is a significant investment for SAICA and demonstrates our commitment to both our UK customers and the wider economy."
At an interview later in the day PPI asked Alejandro about SAICA's plans for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), given its recent acquisition of Polish packaging firm T.O.P. in conjunction with Thimm Verpackung. Alejandro said, ‘We have a 49% stake in that business. We are approaching the CEE as we approach any other area of our business operations. We will invest in the businesses that we own and develop their productivity. For instance, in Poland we have commissioned a new building and purchased new corrugating equipment at the plant. We are now considering the possibility of a future investment in finishing equipment for that operation. If other opportunities arise, within CEE or elsewhere, we will consider them and act in SAICA's best interests.'
Asked about the impact that SAICA will have on the UK corrugated industry and the changes that he envisaged for the industry in the future Alejandro explained, ‘The UK corrugated industry has already undergone considerable consolidation. In mainland Europe more consolidation can be anticipated in the future. In my view SAICA does not need to be the biggest player in the market. That is not our intention. We are striving to provide service; quality; sustainability and profitability. Those are our aims. We are operating in the UK because we see a place for us in this market and our results are already proving that we have made the right decision to be here. The UK will rapidly become one of our biggest markets. This gives us additional benefits as we are totally reliant on the Iberian market.' He went on to explain that PM 11 produces corrugated and fluting. Of the total production, 65% is earmarked for conversion within the SAICA group; 10% will be exported (mainly to northern France and Germany) and the balance will be sold in the UK and Ireland.'
He continued, "We are still a family business and there are many advantages to this. It is much easier for us to make long-term plans than be forced into short-term decisions. In addition we can act quickly and decisively if required. For example, we received planning permission for PM 11 back in 2008. When the economic downturn came we decided to put the project on hold. The decision to proceed when markets improved in 2010 was taken promptly too. We may not have been able to react so quickly if we had not got family control of the business."
In closing it would be appropriate to make a comparison of technological development on the Partington site. PM 11 draws its water from the adjacent Manchester Ship Canal. This neatly connects the pinnacle of 19th century industrial development with 21st century recovered fiber innovation. SAICA approaches the future with confidence.