Chemical method for producing wood pulp using caustic soda and sodium sulfide as the liquor in which the pulpwood is cooked to loosen the fibres. The process (from German kraft, “strong”) produces particularly strong and durable paper; another advantage is its capability of digesting pine chips; resins dissolve in the alkaline liquor and are recovered as tall oil, a valuable by-product. Recovery of sodium compounds is important in the economy of the process. In modern kraft mills, operations are completely contained; waste streams are recycled and reused, eliminating water pollution.
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The molten salts ("smelt") from the recovery boiler are dissolved in a process water known as weak wash. This process water also known as weak white liquor is composed of all liquors used to wash lime mud and green liquor precipitates and is kept in a tank called weak wash storage tank. The solution of sodium carbonate and sodium sulfide resulted is known as "green liquor". This liquid is mixed with calcium hydroxide to regenerate the white liquor used in the pulping process through an equilibrium reaction (Na2S is shown since it is part of the green liquor, but does not participate in the reaction):
Calcium oxide (lime) is reacted with water to regenerate the calcium hydroxide used in Reaction 2:
The combination of reactions 1 through 4 form a closed cycle with respect to sodium, sulfur and calcium and is the main concept of the called recausticizing process where sodium carbonate is reacted to regenerate sodium hydroxide.
The recovery boiler also generates high pressure steam which is led to turbogenerators, reducing the steam pressure for the mill use and generating electricity. A modern kraft pulp mill is more than self-sufficient in its electrical generation and normally will provide a net flow of energy to the local electrical grid. Additionally, bark and wood residues are often burned in a separate power boiler to generate steam.
Kraft pulp is darker than other wood pulps, but it can be bleached to make very white pulp. Fully bleached kraft pulp is used to make high quality paper where strength, whiteness and resistance to yellowing are important.
The kraft process can use a wider range of fiber sources than most other pulping processes. All types of wood, including very resinous types like southern pine, and non-wood species like bamboo and kenaf can be used in the kraft process.
In a modern mill, brownstock (cellulose fibers containing approximately 5% residual lignin), produced by the pulping is first washed to remove some of the dissolved organic material and then further delignified by a variety of bleaching stages.
In the case of a plant designed to produce pulp to make brown sack paper or linerboard for boxes and packaging, the pulp does not always need to be bleached to a high brightness. Bleaching decreases the mass of pulp produced by about 5%, decreases the strength of the fibers and adds to the cost of manufacture.
Various byproducts containing hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, and other volatile sulfur compounds are the cause of the malodorous air emissions characteristic for pulp mills utilizing the kraft process. Outside the modern mills the odour is perceivable only during disturbance situations, for example when shutting the mill down for maintenance break. This is due to practiced collection and burning of these odorous gases in the recovery boiler along with black liquor. The sulfur dioxide emissions of the kraft pulp mills are much lower than sulfur dioxide emissions from sulfite mills. In modern mills where high dry solids are burned in the recovery boiler hardly any sulfur dioxide leaves the boiler. This is mainly due to higher lower furnace temperature which leads to higher sodium release from the black liquor droplets that can react with sulfur dioxide forming sodium sulfate.
The process effluents are treated in a biological effluent treatment plant, which guarantees that the effluents are not toxic in the recipient.