Pulp, Paper, Bioproducts 101 with FPInnovations

Mathieu Régnier

Paper Advance was invited to attend the last day of a week-long course given by FPInnovations.

The exciting event was appropriately dubbed, "an excellent crash course on today's pulp and paper making," according to an enthusiastic participant.

FPInnovations has been offering the Pulp, Paper and Bioproducts Course since the 1980s. Following the economic challenges that began to plague the industry in the 1990s, however, the program was set aside until sufficient interest made its return possible. Course director, Dr. Xuejun Zou notes that the course has been given in its present form since 2014. For Dr. Zou, the course success and popularity was confirmed again during its October 3-7 session. As we move away from the industry's most challenging period, and as baby boomers begin to retire, engineers, managers and their acolytes are graduating from universities and walking into professional positions in Canadian pulp and paper mills. "These young professionals need an overview of industrial processes and innovations and we believe we are uniquely positioned to provide them with this much needed knowledge," said Dr. Zou.

Held at FPInnovations headquarters in Pointe-Claire, QC, "the lectures and hands-on training are structured in order to provide students with solid knowledge and background on how the pulp, paper and bioproducts business works," Dr. Zou explains.


“the lectures and hands-on training are structured in order to provide students with solid knowledge and background on how the pulp, paper and bioproducts business works”.

2016: a new course format

A soon-to-be retired baby boomer himself, Dr. Jean Bouchard is an FPInnovations veteran and a dynamic lecturer for the course. After more than 25 years of working for FPInnovations, his contributions to the industry were highlighted by the course organizers in ensuring Dr. Bouchard's knowledge and expertise were given a chance to shine in his lectures on wood chemistry, the bleaching of chemical pulps and on the innovation process behind cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), a recyclable, non-toxic, and renewable nanomaterial extracted from trees. For Dr. Bouchard, the five day Pulp, Paper and Bioproducts Course provides essential training to a wide range of participants. Through lectures and interactive demonstrations, participants had the opportunity to learn firsthand the basic concepts related to wood chemistry, paper properties, papermaking and pulping. In total, 25 lecturers gave presentations. Dr. Bouchard explains that "students are not only process engineers, operators or mill managers and that as a matter of fact they should not be." He adds laughingly, "it is a shame there aren't more journalists and other generalists seeking our 35 hours' attendance certificate."

In its attempt to cater to a broad range of participants, course material caters to the needs and interests of government personnel, sales representatives and other industry stakeholders. This year's course was adapted to the industry's evolving needs and to an economy in dire need of business cross-pollination. "We placed a stronger focus on industry innovations and expanded the course to bioproducts such as biomaterials, and biochemicals." Dr. Zou confirms that this year's presentations were shorter in length; a decision made in direct response to feedback and suggestions received from previous participants. "The new course format is built on a strong practical focus that also describes upcoming innovations being created by FPInnovations."

Throughout the week, the 24 participants learnt about new opportunities in growing segments of the industry. "We presented the latest industrial processes in relation to tissue, hygiene, and packaging products and insisted on the description of products that are sadly not known well enough by people who work in the sector after many years." Of particular note, according to Dr. Bouchard, were the multiple projects involving cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) . "Just think about the construction and manufacturing sectors or think about the potential medical applications that CNC is offering," he said.

This year's course also included half a day dedicated to innovation. This segment of the program was held on the last day of the course and provided an opportunity to present newly developed bioproducts, some of which are being worked on within FPInnovations' own laboratories. These lectures were exceptionally well-attended by FPInnovations researchers, who took the opportunity to present their work in an adjacent "showroom." On display were next generation absorbent products and adhesives, lignin-based polyurethane foam, 3D printing objects, biocomposites, advanced packaging and others.

Eye-opener and Networking Opportunity

Last week's participants were provided with many opportunities to network amongst themselves and enjoyed access to lecturers eager to engage and discuss. Pierre-Martin Dion, an account manager at ABB Canada and a 2016 course participant, works closely with pulp and paper customers and explains that his role is to "help them in the modernization and optimization of their processes, which in turn allows them to be more competitive." He considered the course to be an eye-opener into different segments of the paper-making processes and that this information could, in many cases, help benefit clients aiming for the optimization of existing cross-linkages and synergies between different industrial processes. Dion learnt as much from the informal discussions with his peers and lecturers as he did from the course itself. "Working with the pulp and paper sector, our goal is to improve system productivity and efficiency while minimizing costs and I can now go back to my colleagues with new insights, and potential solutions."

“the industry is complexifying as its basket of products diversifies and, in order to simplify collaboration between subsectors, a common language can be very useful”.

Abundant technical advancements in the pulp and paper industry have occurred in the last decade, and stakeholders need to adapt as the industry moves to novel and specialized products. Dr. Zou believes, "the industry is complexifying as its basket of products diversifies and, in order to simplify collaboration between subsectors, a common language can be very useful." This lingua franca is within reach thanks to courses such as this one. The weeklong training successfully attracted students from other industries in addition to those who make their 'home' in the traditional pulp and paper sector. "A student from Dupont was especially interested in possible new applications for wood fibres and biomaterials," noted Dr. Zou. In total, 15 companies were represented in the studentship and participants came from across the country and from the U.S.

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A peek into "Innovation Day"

Cellulose Filaments (CF), by lecturer: Xujun Hua, Ph.D.

  • CF can be used to improve paper machine efficiency, reduce costs and basis weight, and in the development of new grades.
  • CF has great potential for non-traditional products such as composites, packaging and construction, materials, agricultural products, etc.

Cellulose Nanocrystals (CNC). Lecturer: Jean Bouchard, Ph.D.

  • CNC obtained regulatory approval under Canada's New Substances Notification Regulations for unrestricted use in Canada.
  • CNC properties: sustainable, available in high volume, inherently strong, uniform and reactive, dispersible, recyclable, practically non-toxic.

Kraft lignin for high-value products. Lecturer: Michael Paleologou.

  • Softwood Kraft lignin is now available in tonne quantities for use in several different high-value applications.
  • The LignoForce System was shown to minimize and/or eliminate sulphur gas emissions from all processing steps, as well as the final product.

Introduction to Forest Biorefinery. Lecturer: John Schmidt.

  • Cannot compete with corn (or sugar cane) without subsidies.
  • Typical end users may be an SME (privately owned and dealing with small volumes of biomass).

3D Printing and Advanced Packaging. Lecturer: Gary Li.

  • 3D printing offers an exciting alternative method for manufacturing - ideal for customized, high-value products.
  • You missed the course? Join the 3D printing workshop at BIOFOR 2017.

Biomaterials from Chemically Modified Cellulose. Lecturer: Alois Vanerek.

  • Cellulose and its derivatives enjoy a broad spectrum of potential applications from low to high tech - regenerated cellulose film, compostable and biodegradable bags, potential replacement for Styrofoam, transparent cellulose film conducting electricity, etc.

Composites. Lecturer: Norayr Gurnagul.

  • Wood is one of nature's oldest examples of composites!
  • Wood pulp fibres can be used to replace existing fibres as reinforcement in moulded composite products. Why? Increasing need for lightweight, cost-effective and sustainable reinforcements for composites.

1 CNC is described as a “high-performing, cutting-edge biomaterial derived from cellulose”.

Mathieu Régnier
Journalist, Paper Advance