“This is going to be a highly competitive mill, as well as being 100% fossil fuel free."
Director of Engineering for the Cerrado project
The Cerrado project will be a giant of the pulp industry when it starts up in less than a year’s time. It will also be one of the most advanced of its kind when it comes to implementing the latest technology for efficiency and circularity, and environmental protection. Suzano CEO Walter Schalka, says, “The Cerrado project is one of the most impressive and competitive pulp mill developments the global industry has ever seen. Very importantly, it will have a positive impact on economic, environmental, and social aspects of the Ribas do Rio Pardo region in Brazil.”
The project is located on the outskirts of the small administrative city of Ribas do Rio Pardo, Mato Grosso do Sul state. Here the highly fertile soil and abundant water courses present the perfect conditions for growing eucalyptus as well as the best site for a modern, highly efficient pulp mill. Schalka continues, “When building a pulp mill, we have to closely look at and combine several prerequisites to ensure competitiveness; forest location – very important as we need to reduce the average radius between forest and the mill – water supply, outward bound logistics and, of course, connections to the grid.
“With the Cerrado mill, we have managed to combine all of these prerequisites at an optimum level."
The project is about three quarters completed and presently there are around 10,000 people working at the site, from laborers and construction workers to skilled engineers, technicians, and site managers. André Luis de Campos, Site Manager of the Suzano Cerrado project, says, “The civil works are nearly completed and now the electromechanical installation phase is taking place. We are going beyond the normal with this project, so we have a specially designed management system that is concentrated on ensuring the safety and comfort of the workforce here.”
To give an idea of the scale, 64 km of roads have been built within the Cerrado project so that movement of some of the largest pieces of equipment ever seen at a pulp mill can be freely transported into place.
The mill has its own hospital, complete with ICT unit and two ambulances in case of emergencies. “So far, we are very pleased with the health and safety aspects of the project; we have a very low incident rate and have had no major event to deal with,” says de Campos. “This is an outstanding result considering that we have already had more than 20 million hours of working time on the project.”
Looking after and feeding the thousands of people working on the project demand planning and scale of military precision. “In terms of the well-being of the workers at the site, as well as health and safety aspects, we also make sure they are well looked after when it comes to sustenance at the mill,” says de Campos. “It is quite an operation to feed 10,000 people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.”
Environmental performance has been number one on the list when it comes to the selection and implementation of the technology at the new mill. Schalka explains, “This will be one of the few mills in the world that will run with zero fossil fuels based on a raw material of 100% planted trees. To enhance our environmental performance, we are installing a gasification process, sulfuric acid plant, and an operation that will sell 180 MWm of electricity to the national grid.
“This operation is going to not only be competitive when it comes to cost per tonne, but will also be a showcase of environmental sustainability when it comes to production performance. We have also planned the location of the site as to ensure a very low distance from forest to site – an average of just 65 km – so there will be fewer emissions from logging transportation as well.”
ANDRITZ was contracted to supply all the process islands for the project, including the wood processing plant with five chipping lines, the world’s largest fiberline with a capacity of over 8,000 adt/d, the complete pulp drying system, evaporation plant, recovery boiler and power boiler, white liquor plant, and gasification plants. The mill will also have one of the first SulfoLoop concentrated sulfuric acid plants installed. In addition, ANDRITZ was selected to supply the latest automation and digitalization technology for the process islands.
Schalka says, “We have significant and long standing, experience with ANDRITZ and we are very pleased with our track record on projects we have developed with the company, in particular with the success of the Horizonte 2 project in Três Lagoas that started up in 2017. This is why we discussed the potential opportunity to work on the Cerrado project together, and right now we are very pleased with the performance.
“Our experience is that right from the top, from ANDRITZ's CEO Joachim Schönbeck, to the project directors, engineers, and technicians on site, there is a positive attitude throughout the organization. When embarking on an EPCC project such as Cerrado, one has to have trust and reliability, and we have both of those with ANDRITZ.”
Progress on the ground at the Cerrado project continues despite a few challenges presented with the sheer size of the process islands, as well as local difficulties obtaining skilled workers and weather conditions in the region.
Joel Starepravo, Project Director, ANDRITZ, says, “We are around less than a year from start-up and we are in the critical phase of the erection, getting ready for the commissioning and start-up phase. In general, the project is going very well but, of course, on a project of this size and in a location such as this, there are always challenges that are thrown at us, which we must solve.
“However, Suzano and ANDRITZ have a superb, proven working relationship and we work closely together to find solutions.”
With ANDRITZ's proven technology in the protection of the environment, including some of the latest in CircleToZero applications of gasification and the SulfoLoop sulfuric acid plant, Starepravo is looking forward to the start-up next year. He says, “I am very confident that the Cerrado mill will be a excellent reference when up and running, in terms of the environment, production efficiency, and availability.”
Mauricio Miranda, Suzano’s Director of Engineering for the Cerrado project says, “In May of this year, we celebrated two years since the beginning of this project, and it is amazing how far we have come already. The site is around 4.6 km wide and 1.5 km long, and now it’s clear to see the spaces being filled with all the ANDRITZ islands that are coming together nicely and on schedule.
“This is going to be a highly competitive mill, as well as being 100% fossil fuel free. With the gasification of the lime kiln, as well as the installation of the SulfoLoop plant, we have installed the very latest and best available technology from ANDRITZ to help us achieve our goals.”
Miranda comments on the successful working relationship between the two companies, “A lot of us at Suzano have a long and experienced history with ANDRITZ on other major projects, including the Horizonte 2 project in Três Lagoas, where our motto was “One Team One Goal”. Again, we have the same spirit on the Cerrado project. What we have noticed working on these projects with ANDRITZ is that the relationship between the two companies gets better and better the more challenges we solve together.”
Director of Engineering for the Cerrado project
The Cerrado mill will finally provide full employment for around 3,000 people after start-up next year, as well as offer huge opportunities for local people in various ways, including business opportunities for local entrepreneurs. Leonardo Pimenta, General Manager of the Cerrado mill says, “The Ribas do Rio Pardo region will benefit greatly from the mill being located here. Around 35% of our mill team, including operations, maintenance, environment, and quality control are from the local area. Also, we are encouraging local people to set up small businesses to provide services and products.
“On the social front, we are also developing the infrastructure of the region, as well as assisting in building hospitals and schools and generally improving the quality of life in the area. We are in a very advantageous position with this new mill; we have great technology and equipment from ANDRITZ, and we have great people to operate and maintain it. This mill is a dream, but over the fence the development of the local community is also a dream.”
The mill project at Cerrado was comprised of a total of a $3.5 billion investment and is set to be one of the most competitive pulp producing sites in the world. Schalka concludes, “This project is a flagship for the pulp industry across the globe. The average cost of producing pulp is around $180 per tonne; at Cerrado the cost will come down to just $100 per tonne. This impressive efficiency is due to the advancement of technologies such as those ANDRITZ is delivering to our project.
“With this mill we believe that we are planting the future, and we believe that planted trees will help to transform our planet for years to come. I am very proud to be part of this journey.”
Project Director, ANDRITZ
Walter Schalka has been CEO of Suzano since January 2013, and has played a major role in the evolution of the company as it has risen to be the largest producer of market pulp globally. Schalka successfully led the merger with another Brazilian pulp giant, Fibria, in 2019, and has received numerous CEO and leadership awards in the pulp and paper industry and beyond. Schalka was recently recognized as the recipient of Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Person of the Year Award.
SCHALKA: There are many companies in Brazil that are doing an extremely good job when it comes to the bioeconomy, and on the pulp front, in particular, it’s amazing how producers here are becoming so competitive in the global market. I think congratulations are in order for the whole of the Brazilian pulp industry.
Suzano is one of the largest enterprise-value companies not only in the Brazilian bioeconomy, but in the nation’s economy as a whole. Suzano is, for sure, the most relevant company in the pulp sector at this point in time. But we firmly believe that this is not about being the biggest, it’s about collaboration; we need everyone working together and going in the same direction as we address climate change - one of the greatest challenges of our generation. It is becoming clear that planted trees will be part of the solution to this challenge.
SCHALKA: High on the list of priorities for Suzano is also the one of ensuring biodiversity in and around our plantations. We have an extensive program of increasing biodiversity in our operations where we connect fragmented native areas with corridors. We are already seeing successful results from our first programs where we are aiming to have around 500,000 ha of areas connected. We are very impressed with the early results of this initiative and will be implementing exactly the same program in Mato Grosso do Sul for the Cerrado project.
SCHALKA: One of the major challenges the whole industry is facing in Brazil is the pace of growth and having enough skilled people. The industry is growing much faster than we have been preparing for, and therefore the major challenge is to get more people qualified to work in our mills.
In the case of Cerrado, we have the very latest in technology at the mill, so we have to bring people in from the outside to operate and run the equipment. However, we have an extensive program where we are training more than 2,000 people to operate at the mill and surrounding forested areas. Fortunately, the pulp industry in Brazil is an attractive area to work in; the salaries and compensation packages tend to be higher than other industries and there is a good career path for those people wanting to advance.
SCHALKA: I love working in this industry; it’s an industry that is playing a part in saving the planet and doing some good. We also have a positive social and economic impact wherever our mills are located.
Furthermore, this industry is not just about achieving revenue from pulp, paper, and energy; there are so many other positives going on, including carbon absorption, replacement of plastic, and the opportunity to enter different parts of the economy, for instance, textiles and biofuels.
In the case of Cerrado, the mill will be the most relevant operation in Suzano for decades to come and will play an important role in the future of the company.