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Networks of Centres of Excellence: Mechanical Wood-Pulps Network Becoming the World Leader in Paper Science


August 1, 2002
By Pulp & Paper Canada

If Canada wants to remain a world leader in paper science and innovation, then research and development must be given the attention it is due. That was the general consensus at the final annual meetin…

If Canada wants to remain a world leader in paper science and innovation, then research and development must be given the attention it is due. That was the general consensus at the final annual meeting of the Mechanical Wood-Pulps Network, held last June in Montreal.

“This is a very significant event,” said Joe Wright, Paprican president and CEO. “We are celebrating the success and the significance of the Mechanical Wood-Pulps Network in 12 years.”

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In 1990, the Mechanical Wood-Pulps Network was launched as part of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program. The first four years of its existence were devoted to setting the course for the areas of research concentration. Phase II (1994-1998) produced practical results in the six research areas: mechanical pulping, bleaching, yellowing inhibition, recycling, pulp processing and process control. The final phase (1998-2002) aimed at completing research in “overcoming the technical barriers to expanded use of mechanical pulps, transfer this technology to the industry, enhance the training of highly qualified personnel, and establish a basis for a permanent network of cooperation among researchers from all parts of Canada.”

One of the great achievements of the Network was that it brought Paprican and Canadian universities together for research. Network manager George Rosenberg stressed that in its 12 years of existence, the Network has provided Paprican with the opportunity to increase university involvement, from three to 16 universities in the past couple of years. “The Network was instrumental in the collaboration of Paprican and universities for research,” said Rosenberg.

Over 150 scientists, engineers and students were involved, working at 18 centres all over Canada. Its host organization, Paprican, together with the National Research Council of Canada, teamed-up with 16 universities and over 30 industry partners (pulp and paper producers, equipment and chemical suppliers).

Now, the Network wants to maintain this community of pulp and paper researchers beyond the termination of Phase III NCE funding.

What to do, where to go?

True to its vision, the Network is doing everything to establish a permanent sustainable network of pulp and paper research that is recognized as the world leader in paper science, engineering and education. Scientific director Bob Pelton said the Network presently has two years’ worth of money, and wants to give the members present at the meeting the chance to determine where the money will be allocated.

“We’ve got the grants, and we have to figure out what to do, where to put it to,” Pelton said. He explained that the money would last for two years, after which the idea is to be self-sustaining. How? He does not know yet, and asked the members for possible ideas.

Several ideas were flowing during the meeting, and the members agreed that an industrial consortium must be put together to promote the Network for more government grants. They must also be ready to present what they have done in the past, to prove that the Network can deliver in the future.

“If we want to be successful in a government grant, we have to repackage ourselves,” said Pelton.

Sponsorship was also suggested at the meeting, but Pelton said that route was already taken, to no avail. “We asked the companies what they want the research committee to do for them, and they basically said: ‘We don’t care!’ Therefore, the research committee will work with the students, for the students,” he stressed.

Indeed, when it comes to the students, Pelton is optimistic. He said he did a quick count of students in postdoctoral degree involved in the pulp and paper research in Canada, and there are 150 of them. “It’s an amazing figure — the biggest in the world.”

With this in mind, Pelton suggested that the Network should aim to gather support, not only from traditional members like PAPTAC and universities, but to non-Canadian companies as well.

Research is vital to the industry

Wright admitted that to date, one of the biggest challenges in the industry is the lack of infrastructure between the academic and individual researchers. The budget allocated by both the federal and the provincial governments was so little, that it did not permit the Network to be visible nationally.

“We’re not understood by the companies, let alone the public,” said Wright.

Wright challenged the participants to put the industry’s future in their own hands. “Can we make a difference? Let us bring together big thinking and put out big ideas to make the Canadian industry what it used to be in the world of pulp and paper.”


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