Located amid the rolling hills of Centenario, on the southern banks of the Río Negro in central Uruguay, is the site of UPM’s second pulp mill in the country. When the first woodchips are fed into its digester, it’ll bring to fruition a project that has been in the works since 2016 and set in motion the production of 2.1 million tonnes of bleached eucalyptus kraft pulp a year.
“It will be one of the largest, most competitive and most sustainable pulp mills in the world,” begins Bernd Eikens, Executive Vice President of UPM Fibres. He believes there is plenty of potential for pulp – and its by-products – as the global community works to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and plastics.
According to estimates from AFRY, an engineering and consulting firm, global demand for market pulp is expected to rise from 78 million tonnes in 2020 to 108 million tonnes by 2035.
Most of the growth is expected to come from China but also the rest of Asia, Europe and North America, as well as other developing economies, are growing their demand for market pulp.
It is being driven by the growing middle class with a new generation of consumers with disposable income are buying toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, facial tissues and consumer products wrapped in labels and other packaging materials.
Meeting this rising demand sustainably is one of the pulp and paper industry's most significant challenges, but Eikens believes the new mill is up to the task. “Pulp is at the core of the bioeconomy and the purpose for the company as a whole is to replace fossil fuel-based products with bioproducts.”
This purpose includes manufacturing pulp-based packaging materials to replace plastic and developing uses for pulp by-products such as lignin and tall oil. “We have a dedicated R&D team focusing on the potential of biomass,” notes Eikens. “Beyond the classical products of timber, paper and pulp, there is more going on to figure out what type of carbon products can be utilised in which way.”
Driving UPM’s long-term sustainable outlook
Part of what drives the forward-looking perspective of UPM is the considerable time and planning it takes to successfully develop and run a pulp mill. “It's a huge logistical operation,” emphasises Marcos Battegazzore, Vice President of UPM Uruguay Pulp and Forestry Operations.