Plant shutdown and reorganization

Typically, a plant shutdown and turnaround are scheduled and planned and then executed as quickly and efficiently as possible. That is not the case at St. Marys Paper (www.stmarys-paper.com) in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

In 2010, the mill had gone dark during a "reorganizational" shutdown for three-quarters of the year. After restarting operations in January, St. Marys’ primary paper machine, with more than half of the mill’s output capacity, went down due to "premature component failures" a few months ago, and the company laid off around 200 maintenance and production employees. Hard times were a-comin’.

The machine won’t be restarted, despite a completed overhaul, until orders are significant enough to justify it. St. Marys is facing the challenges of its industry with a new vision. And while magazine and catalog paper should remain its primary business, the company is looking at a greener future by investing heavily in its subsidiary, St. Marys Renewable Energy, formed in 2007, and a proposed cogeneration plant.

The organization sees opportunities that range from wood pellets to energy. That’s where the $175 million cogeneration facility comes in. With a 10-year purchase agreement in hand to supply 30 MW of electricity to the Ontario Power Authority (www.powerauthority.on.ca), St. Marys is working feverishly on the financing, and CEO Dennis Bunnell is confident of beginning construction this year and beginning operations within three years.

Biomass, including bark and waste wood, will be the plant’s primary fuel source. Its heat will be used in the mill’s industrial processes, and the electricity not used by the mill will be sold to the grid.

To be certain it has a long-term biomass supply, St. Marys has secured as many as 400,000 metric tons annually from the Algoma and Northshore Crown Forests. And existing boilers at the mill will be replaced with bubbling fluidized bed boiler technology to improve emissions.

St. Marys needs to diversify the opportunities created by its mill operations, and biomass seems to be at the center of those opportunities. Also under investigation are a wood-pellet plant; converting bark into feedstock alternatives; turning mill-byproduct biosolids into fertilizer; and producing ethanol from biosolids.

Rarely does a plant spend a shutdown creating a strategic plan for future operations, but the economy continues to create new challenges and new opportunities, so use your downtime wisely.