CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (From news reports) -- International Paper's Cedar River Mill, the largest 100-percent recycled paper mill in the Americas -- broke ground Monday on its expansion project to generate an alternate steam supply and transition off coal-powered steam.
International Paper operates 18 containerboard plants and 28 mills overall in the United States. The company creates material for fiber-based packaging products for e-commerce, processed food and beverages, fruit and vegetables, protein, distribution and durable and nondurable goods.
Without the replacement steam supply provided by this $103 million expansion, Cleves said, International Paper would have to shut down here.
"The driver is we want to maintain our operations in Iowa," Cleves said.
This project will retain 186 hourly and 54 salaries positions. Seven new jobs will be created to operate the package boilers. Another 100 construction jobs are anticipated to be created while the facility is built adjacent to the existing plant.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority board in January awarded state incentives under Iowa's high-quality jobs program -- $800,000 in investment tax credits and a $400,200 in a sales, service and use tax refund.
The Cedar Rapids City Council also awarded the project city incentives -- a 10-year, declining scale exemption of the increased value the project generates. Based on the proposed investment, the city estimates the project will generate $2.337 million in new taxes over a 10-year period, of which $961,000 will be exempt.
Greenhouse gas emissions are slated to be reduced by 25 percent as a result of this project. The company's emissions includes purchased steam and purchased utilities, Cleves said, so much of the reduction will be achieved by the switch to natural gas from coal-fired steam generation.
Cleves said the company is committed to the Science Based Targets initiative -- a worldwide effort to encourage corporate commitments to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. International Paper is looking to reduce emissions by 35 percent companywide by 2030.
Mill manager Derek Depuydt said sustainability is built into the Cedar River Mill plant, which takes in more than 1.1 million tons a year of containerboard that otherwise would go into a landfill.
Rolls of paper are made in Cedar Rapids and sent to the company's converting facilities to build high-quality products, Depuydt said.
First, old corrugated containerboard is cleaned to remove unwanted solid materials such as sand, metal or plastic so that fibers can bond to make paper. After machines spit out those materials, cleaners eliminate lighter materials such as waxes.
Much of the water used in the process goes through a clarifier to be reused and pushed back through the system. Any unused sludge is sent to a sludge press and doesn't go to the landfill, but rather can be used on farms.
Eventually, material goes to a paper machine that uses a moving woven mesh to de-water the stock and make the uniform sheet as strong as possible. The stock is pressed to squeeze the water out before it goes into dryer cans, where heat further de-waters the stock through evaporation.
At the end of the paper machine, the paper is rolled into giant reels weighing 50 tons each and separated into five smaller, more manageable reels. Overall, the plant's two machines combined average about 3,000 tons of paper daily, staff said on a plant tour.
Other facilities across International Paper's footprint are looking to make similar moves to Cedar Rapids' plant.
A majority of the company's mills have biomass boilers that use recycled content to supply the majority of their energy, Cleves said, and only a handful of International Paper's recycle mills depend on purchase power agreements. The company also is looking to decrease water usage across the board, he said.
"It's great for the community. You hear the impact when you go to the City Council meeting, how they view International Paper," Cleves said, referring to council members' remarks when awarding city incentives earlier this year. "It's good to hear that representation be relayed, because it helps affirm that the way you take care of your people and the way that you are taking care of your community is actually making an impact on others that are in the vicinity."
Mayor Tiffany O'Donnell said the company's commitment to sustainability aligns well with the goals of Cedar Rapids' Community Climate Action Plan, which outlines steps to advance climate action and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
"The circular economy as we call it makes Cedar Rapids really attractive, and it's because of places like International Paper," O'Donnell said.