Construction of Sun Bio Dissolving Pulp Mill in Arkansas to Begin by Year End

Construction of Sun Bio Dissolving Pulp Mill in Arkansas to Begin by Year End 

New dissolving pulp mill will produce viscose grade dissolving pulp for conversion primarily to rayon. It will employ some 250 people after startup in 2020-2021.

Construction could start late this year on China-based Sun Paper’s new billion-dollar Sun Bio Material pulp mill near Gum Springs, Ark., USA, according to a report this week by Arkansas Business (Arkansas Business Publishing Group, Little Rock, Ark.). However, the actual building process for the sprawling Clark County complex is expected to begin in earnest early next year, the report added.

The Sun Bio project is expected to take two years to construct, starting up in 2020-2021.  The new mill will employ 250 people when it is fully operational. It will produce viscose dissolving pulp rather than fluff pulp as initially planned. Dissolving pulp produced at the mill will be shipped overseas for conversion into rayon, primarily. 

Supplying the pulp mill will be the state’s 19 million acres of timberland, the fourth-largest lumber-producing stand in the nation and second-biggest in the South, Arkansas Business noted, adding that “area economic boosters believe the Sun Bio plant could generate 1,000 jobs in trucking, logging, and forestry to feed the facility as much as 4 million tons of pine timber annually.”

“We’re still in the pre-engineering, permitting stage,” Stephen Bell, president and CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, said in the article. “We’re waiting on the air permit and hoping to see that issued sometime in November.”

The permit application was filed with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in March and deemed administratively complete in May. Logging on the plant site is finished, clearing the way for future construction when the air permit is approved.

Land assembly was all but completed this year, the Arkansas Business article stated. Between Janiary 9 and July 7, the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County invested nearly $3.5 million to buy more than 992 acres for Sun Bio as well as property around it.

In addition to land, the 10 transactions involved two houses, according to Clark County real estate records. Additional land is under option to expand the Sun Bio site to its planned 1,054 acres.

“It seems like a long time since the [April 26, 2016] announcement” of the Gum Springs site selection, Bell said. “But the permitting part of the project is a long process, and it takes time to prepare the paperwork. We’re in the hurry-up-and-wait mode.”

Behind the scenes, design work is underway for the rail system to support the facility.

The Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority will operate the Sun Bio rail yard, which will connect with Union Pacific Railroad and ultimately with maritime container shipping, mostly back to China.

“It will certainly increase Arkansas exports,” said Mark Hamer, director of international business development for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Sun Bio officials are still working out the details of selling excess power to the grid owned by Entergy and managed by MISO Energy. Steam produced by the plant can generate about 80,000 MW of energy.

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