Legacy equipment issues and acts of nature have plagued the ramp-up of dissolving pulp production at the Fortress Specialty Cellulose mill in Thurso, Que. Nine months after the start-up, the mill was still not at full production, due to various planned and unplanned shutdowns.
“We had lofty expectations and high hopes because we done all the right preparatory work,” said Fortress Paper president Chad Wasilenkoff in an interview in late September. The entrepreneur is pleased with the way the conversion from the NBSK process to dissolving pulp was accomplished, but nonetheless, investors are noticing that the company has missed its stated production targets.
At one point in early June, Fortress announced the mill had been running at 92% of final targeted capacity for 10 days. But more often than not, stoppages in production have pulled the final output down into the 80% range.
In the last year, the mill has taken unplanned downtime due to a recovery boiler failure, a water intake pipe break (under a building), a lightning strike that damaged transformers, and a power outage caused by a storm.
A comprehensive seven-day shutdown was taken in September for a combination of annual maintenance and to complete high-voltage and process tie-ins for the co-gen plant under construction at the site.
Wasilenkoff says the construction work on the co-gen project required a shutdown of 2.5 days, so, “we committed to the shutdown to get most of the critical path items out of the way.” The causticizing unit was a particular area of focus during this period.
With the maintenance work completed and co-gen construction on track, the CEO says he’s “looking forward to a few good months to end the year.”
Recently, Fortress Paper reported a third-quarter loss of $18.9 million on sales of $73.0 million. The company’s specialty papers segment contributed $8.3 million EBITDA, while dissolving pulp generated EBITDA losses of $8.0 million, and security papers had EBITDA losses of $5.6 million.
The losses in the dissolving pulp sector are attributed to the recovery boiler issue and the scheduled maintenance shutdown. Pulp shipments for the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2012, were 30,500 tonnes, compared with 35,700 tonnes the previous quarter.
(Watch for a more extensive update on Fortress Paper in the Nov/Dec issue of Pulp & Paper Canada.)