Optimising Pulp, Paper Capacities With Local, Fibrous Raw Materials

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Paper pulp.
Paper pulp.

Paper production is one of the industrial activities regarded as a pointer to a nation’s level of industrialisation and educational development. While the use of computers and other forms of technology for data storage and retrieval is on the increase worldwide, the demand for paper has also continued to rise. Over 300 million tonnes of paper are used globally annually and the Food and Agricultural Organisation has predicted that the demand for paper products will increase globally by 50 per cent in 2050.   

In Nigeria, in the early ‘60s, three integrated pulp and paper mills – Nigeria Paper Mill (NPM) in Jebba, Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC) Oku Iboku and the Iwopin Pulp and Paper Company (IPCC) Iwopin – were established to produce different types of paper for the local and export markets. The NPM and NNMC started well. According to the Annual Report of the Central Bank of Nigeria 1994, import of newsprint reduced drastically to 17.5 per cent in 1986 and 12.5 per cent in 1987, before fading out totally in 1988.   NNMC was the only newsprint manufacturing company in West and Central Africa.  Before its shutdown in 1996 due to unsustainable operations, NNMC exported newsprint to USA, Cameroon, Germany, Togo, Ghana and Zimbabwe.

The IPCC, on the other hand, was never operational. Even after the companies were privatised in 2006, only the NPM, Jebba is presently producing.  The failure of the investments is mainly due to their dependence on imported long fibre pulp and chemicals.   The oil glut of the ‘90s led to a scarcity of foreign exchange, making it difficult to import raw materials and resultant closure of the mills in 1996.

Since 1996 till date, the country has depended mostly on the importation of different types of paper products, except packaging materials – some of which are being produced by NPM and four other paper mills specialised in kraft papers from recycled waste paper.  The effect of these is reflected in import trade figures for paper, paperboards and art paper.  The import figure for these types of paper from 2010 to 2015 was N658.1billion. The net amount builds higher to N798.9billion when aggregated with values for printed books, newspapers, pictures and other miscellaneous paper products.  According to COMTRADE 2022 database on international trade, Nigeria imported paper products amounting to $696 million for 2020 alone.  Some of the countries some of the products were imported from are China with a share of 24 per cent of total imports in 2020, Indonesia, 11 per cent; India, 11.9 per cent and Egypt, 2.11 per cent.  Ironically, some of these countries use non-wood fibrous resources in their raw materials resources mix.  Apart from the expenditure of scarce foreign exchange, over 300,000 jobs are lost due to paper importation.

Speaking to Science Nigeria, the chairman, pulp and paper group, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Princess Okeowo, said from an econometric point of view, the paper industry has one of the lowest figures for production and consumption for local products among all the industrial divisions, placing the sector on the rank of likely lowest capital investment and output. This may be as a result of the deplorable performance of the integrated paper mills which may have resulted in the unwillingness of local investors to invest in the paper business due to perceptions hinging on the absence of raw material resources.

Okeowo pointed out that in Nigeria various studies have indicated massive availability of different fibre resources, including recycled fibre, that may help in transforming the paper industry landscape if adequate investments can be made in utilising them for paper production.  Since its commences operation in the ‘60s, NPM had used waste paper as one of its major raw materials.  The company is still recycling waste paper.  It is, however, interesting to note that the availability of waste paper has reduced very considerably, while about three or four other companies have come on board to produce packaging materials from recycled fibre in Nigeria.  

“Presently, Nigeria now imports waste paper to complement locally available ones. According to COMTRADE 2022 database on international trade, Nigeria imported from Canada waste and scrap paper or paperboard worth $39.1million.   Closely aligned to this, Nigeria has copious short fibre hardwood species. Before the closure of Nigeria Paper Mill in 1996, the company was pulping 15 mixed hardwood species from the Savanna region which are mixed with imported long fibre pulp.  Nigeria still has reasonable quantities of short fibre wood that can be pulped locally for paper production,” she added.

Speaking on this development with Science Nigeria, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof. Hussaini Ibrahim, said Nigeria has made spirited efforts in the ‘60s to ‘70s to introduce Pinus caribaea and P. oocarpa, for long fibre production in the country. 

He, however, said the effort was unsuccessful as a result of high ambient soil temperature and the absence of indigenous sources of mycorrhiza fungi.  Presently, most of the pine plantations are on trial plots. 

Prof. Hussaini Ibrahim
The director-general, RMRDC, Prof. Hussaini Doko Ibrahim.

Ibrahim pointed out that research and development on sourcing long fibre plants locally have led to the discovery of Sterculia setigera and Steculia oblonga with fibre lengths higher than 2mm.  Apart from this, Nigeria has several non-wood raw materials, adding these are speciality, non-woods or softwood replacements such as cotton linters, kenaf, bamboo, etc., and common non-wood or hardwood alternatives such as straws, bagasse, corn stalks, sorghum stalks, etc.  

“Kenaf has been used as a substitute for wood pulp and paper production in Thailand and China. Studies carried out in Nigeria shows the fibre length of kenaf bast fibre to be 2.90 mm while the fibre diameter was 28.16 um, lumen width of 6.08 um and cell wall thickens was 11.04 um respectively.  Kenaf cooked with kraft, soda, or neutral sulfite processes produce better quality pulp than hardwood pulp.  Mixed with different percentages of hardwoods, it is used to make printing and writing paper, newsprint, linerboard, tissue, bleached paperboard, cigarette paper and other lightweight speciality papers.

“In the recent past, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) collaborated with the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan to produce foundation seeds which were multiplied by the Kenaf Association of Nigeria (KEAN) in Kwara State. This collaboration with IAR&T, later led to the production of four varieties of kenaf breeder seeds for further multiplication by the association. RMRDC has also carried out a technical study on a commercial scale pulping of bast kenaf fibres for long fibre pulp production. The report is available for use, study or consultations by investors,” he said.

The RMRDC boss noted that five species of bamboo are indigenous to Nigeria, saying the most prominent one of these is Bambusa vulgaris, adding that the pulping properties of the species have been studied.

According to him, the fibre length varies from 2.37-2.92mm, showing that strong paper with good tearing resistance could be obtained from the plant. It is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world.

He added that it was commercially used for kraft paper production by the NPM before its closure in 1996. Bamboo is also popular as raw material for pulp and paper making in China, India and Malaysia. 

Ibrahim revealed that the RMRDC constituted a team made up of experts from UI, FUTA and RMRDC to carry out a nationwide survey of bamboo availability and utilization in Nigeria, stating that the study indicated that bamboo is widely distributed especially in the south and middle belt regions.

He added that the RMRDC is presently collaborating with several investors, most especially, Gamla Nigeria Limited, to establish a bamboo plantation in Delta State. 

“The major option available to countries with substantial agricultural produce is the production of paper from agricultural residues. Some of the agricultural residues that are sustainably available in Nigeria are being used in many countries to produce a paper of different types.  Among these are sugarcane corn and cotton stalks which are used as an alternative source of fibre for paper manufacture. Others include sorghum stalk cotton lintersandcotton rags which is among the finest fibres accessible for paper-making.  In most cases, the agricultural-residues are locally available for free or at a very low cost,” he maintained.

The RMRDC helmsman further observed that although the pulping of non-wood fibres and agricultural residues has some challenges, assiduous research and development are obviating some of these problems.

“Now the total production capacity of the primary pulp and paper mills is about 408,000 tonnes per annum. After it has been upgraded by its new owners, NPM can produce 240,000 tonnes of kraft paper per annum, while IPCC upon completion is to produce 68,000 tonnes of printing and duplicating paper.  The Oku Iboku mill has a total capacity of 100,000 tonnes of newsprint per annum.  The total production capacity of these mills if all are fully operational is far below the 3 million tonnes of different types of paper and board required annually locally. This shows that, even at optimal capacity utilization, the total output from the mills will not be able to satisfy the national demand for different types of paper, most especially, writing, duplicating and speciality papers, including handmade paper.   

“To optimise pulp and capacities, a mix of big, medium and small-scale paper producing mills will have to be encouraged. Small-scale paper production has the potential for low initial capital.  This makes it easy for prospective investors.  There is a need to support this initiative through policy measures such as tax cuts, increase tariffs on paper and paper products produced by the mills and mandatory usage of locally produced paper in industries, schools and government offices. This was the approach adopted by India in the ‘70s.

“Also to encourage the development of non-wood small scale pulp and paper making industries in Nigeria, there is need to earmark certain products exclusively in the domain of the small scale paper industries to protect them from competition from the large scale mills that have been privatised.   Also imperative is the improvement of access to credit, technology, skill and market information.  Establishment of mills that will pulp the fibrous raw materials that are locally available will save Nigeria more than N500billion annually in foreign exchange equivalents,” he added.

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