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UBC’S PULP AND PAPER CENTRE shows the value (and necessity) of academic/industry partnerships


January 1, 2000
By Pulp & Paper Canada

It is a time of great change at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Pulp and Paper Centre. The newest program is an Advanced Papermaking Initiative announced in 1998. The $8.5-million program is …

It is a time of great change at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Pulp and Paper Centre. The newest program is an Advanced Papermaking Initiative announced in 1998. The $8.5-million program is being funded by Forest Renewal BC and will study ways to add value and increase the competitiveness of BC papermaking (see sidebar).

The renowned Non-Thesis Masters programs at UBC and McGill University are to undergo profound changes which will see the program at each university put on a one-year hiatus over a two-year cycle beginning with the 1999-2000 academic year (see sidebar).

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Opened in November 1986, the original objective of the Pulp and Paper Centre was to carry out research and education for the pulp and paper industry, focusing on the particular needs of the BC industry. Over the years, the mandate has not changed, according to Centre director Richard Kerekes. In recognition of his efforts for the Centre, Kerekes was awarded the John S. Bates Memorial Gold Medal, PAPTAC’s highest honor, in January 1999 during PaperWeek.

Although the mandate has not changed, the emphasis has, to paper and papermaking technology, from pulp, which has historically dominated the BC industry. Hence, the Advanced Papermaking Initiative, which will be led by Kerekes.

The Centre grew from the need to establish a pulp and paper education initiative in the west. In the east, McGill has long been a site of a collaborative effort between the university and Paprican. Paprican has a mandate to educate as well as to carry out research, Kerekes noted. The UBC Centre has its roots in 1978 when Paprican established a collaboration with UBC. Kerekes relocated from Paprican Pointe Claire to an office in the basement of UBC’s Chemical Engineering building. A few years later, efforts began to establish a Pulp and Paper Centre, which opened in 1986.

At about the same time, Paprican was strengthening its staff research presence on the West Coast. Its Vancouver Laboratory, which also opened in 1986, is located about 2 km from the UBC Pulp and Paper Centre, in an industrial research park linked to UBC. Although there is a lot of interaction between the two, they are independent of each other. The Centre’s staff includes UBC faculty associates, Paprican faculty level staff and Paprican support staff. Faculty level staff hold cross appointments from UBC and Paprican. They supervise the various research projects done at the Centre. Paprican research supervisors are adjunct or honorary professors of UBC; UBC research supervisors are faculty associates of Paprican.

In May 1999, there were about 60 students studying for their MASc or PhD degrees. The program attracts students from around the world. There were five non-thesis Master students and about 10 undergraduate summer and co-op students.

The old notion of academic pie in the sky projects must also be put to rest. Kerekes noted there is a heavy degree of supplier and industry support for many of the research projects. “As a university centre, we receive funding from many government and industry sources, as well as Paprican”, Kerekes added. “Suppliers have made a significant contribution and are major supporters of our programs.”

It also works in the reverse. For researchers to receive funding from government granting agencies, projects usually must show some support from industry.

Among the companies involved are Dow Chemical, Valmet, ABB-Bailey, Honeywell-Measurex, Andritz, Beloit and JWI. Kerekes said that many students end up working for supplier companies because suppliers are developing and supplying much of the new technology used in the industry.

The research work done at the Centre has produced many success stories. One is the Fibre Quality Analyzer (FQA) developed in collaboration with Paprican and licensed to OpTest Equipment (Pulp & Paper Canada, October 1998). Early work on the flow cell for this device was done in the Centre with funding from the NCE Mechanical Wood-Pulps Network. The flow cell was jointly patented by Paprican and UBC. There are now over 70 such instruments sold around the world.

The Centre’s annual budget is approximately $5 million. Of this, about $1 million comes from Paprican, mostly in the form of salaries of Paprican staff located in the Centre, while the rest comes from The Networks of Centres of Excellence, the BC Science Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and industry.

Research activities are divided into different fields. The chemical pulping technology group is the largest. Other fields include environment, fibre processing, papermaking, mechanical pulping, recycling, and process control. “The latter,” Kerekes noted, “is probably the largest university-based process control group for the pulp and paper industry in the country”.

The fibre processing group is of particular importance. The aim is to derive more value from Canada’s fibre resource. The current focus is on fibre fractionation and refining. “These topics are of particular importance for BC”, Kerekes said. “Over 80% of the fibre for BC’s pulp mills comes from sawmills vs. about 50% on average for Canada. This brings a high degree of variability and in some cases diminishes the value of high quality fibre mixed with less desirable species for papermaking, eg. interior species vs. some coastal species. Fractionation is a technology to overcome this.”

The Networks of Centres of Excellence Program holds a prominent position in the Centre. There are 17 faculty in two NCE Networks: Mechanical Wood-Pulps and Sustainable Forest Management. Work in the former takes in pulp processing, process control, papermaking and bleaching. Work in the latter is focussed on minimal impact technologies for forest materials processing. “Some of these areas were subjects of study before the Networks were established,” Kerekes said, “but not nearly to the extent they are now. In other areas, the Network was the spur to doing the work.”

The Mechanical Wood-Pulps Network is already in year two of Phase III and this phase will definitely be the last. The question is how to keep the momentum started by the Networks going. “Discussions are underway in the Network to decide what will happen,” Kerekes explained. “There is a strong desire to maintain a network of Canadian universities to continue many of the beneficial collaborations spawned by this Network.” Kerekes believes the continuation will focus on events and programs that allow universities to do things together, and will include all of the university-based pulp and paper related academics rather than just those of the current NCE.

The Centre has 6 industrial research chairs, another indication of its closeness to industry. These are Paprican/NSERC Industrial Research Chairs in Process Control (Guy Dumont and Ezra Kwok), COFI Forest Products Waste Management Chairs (Eric Hall, Sheldon Duff, William Mohn) and Weyerhaeuser Chair in Computational Fluid Dynamics (Martha Salcudean).

Guy Dumont holds the Senior NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Process Control at the Centre. The group was started in May 1983 when Dumont moved to Vancouver from Paprican, Pointe Claire. He was a Paprican faculty member in the Centre until 1989 when he was appointed Senior Chairholder of the Paprican/NSERC Industrial Chair in Process Control. Industrial partners in his group include Canfor, Weyerhaeuser (Tacoma, WA), Honeywell-Measurex, ABB-Bailey, Kvaerner Chemetics, Profigard, Alberta Newsprint, Island Paper and Universal Dynamics Group. There are also collaborations with universities and research centres round the world.

The main focus of current research is on wet end modelling and control of the paper machine. This includes high-fidelity dynamic modelling to study propagation and attenuation of high-frequency variations, CD control and wavelet analysis of paper machine data.

In the area of CD control, a joint project is underway with Honeywell-Measurex. One of the problems with CD control is that “control doesn’t stay in control for long”, Dumont explained. The problem is actuator picketing. What happens is not clearly u
nderstood and often, controls must be put in manual mode to alleviate the problem. “There is a need to design a controller to control low frequency modes, and high frequency modes where uncertainty dominates,” Dumont added. “We have designed a technique that gives aggressive control in controllable modes and doesn’t control in uncontrollable modes.”

In the area of wavelet technology, the goal is to create online tools, matching wavelet choice to problem characteristics. This would provide a profile analysis and visualization using high-resolution data. It would provide a separation of CD and MD variations. Ultimately, it could lead to the optimization of roll cutting.

In the TMP/CTMP field, the focus is on refiners, particularly load control. The control system must know that if it reaches a critical point where plate clash is imminent, it must reverse to avoid clashing. The group has developed an adaptive controller that is smart enough to sense approaching problems.

BrainWave & LUST

Adaptive control is another important area of study for the process control group and one in which it has made significant developments. One of the problems was that adaptive controllers could work very well under ideal conditions. Therefore, a fair amount of prior knowledge was needed. In the early 1980s, there was interest in developing a new technique for adaptive control that did not require much prior knowledge. From this work, LUST (Laguerre unstructured self tuner) was born (PULP & PAPER CANADA, April 1989). The method allowed the design of an adaptive controller that did not need all the prior knowledge previously required. The complexity of the model could be changed “on the fly”.

The method caught the eye of Universal Dynamics and led to the development of the Universal Adaptive Controller (UAC). This development won the 1996 Excellence in Product Innovation Award of the Technologies Industries Association of British Columbia.

The most recent version is known as BrainWave. This adaptive controller can reduce process variability by 30 to 50% compared to the well-tuned PID based controllers it is designed to replace. It has been used in lime kiln automation, digester EA control, bleach plant control and recovery boiler control applications and in many industries besides pulp and paper — glass, brewing, petrochemical, energy.

In conclusion, Dumont said now that many graduates are working in mills or with suppliers, it’s becoming easier to explain the work the Process Control Group is doing. He added that the work being done with tuning would not have happened without the close ties with Honeywell-Measurex. “More and more, the industry realizes that control can help in significantly improving productivity and quality at a relatively low cost — brains and a few computers.”

UBC Process Control Group graduates have no trouble find jobs, Dumont added. “In fact, many of them find jobs before they finish so it’s tougher to get them to write their theses.”

CFD modelling can be applied widely

In 1996, thanks to a $500 000-grant, the Weyerhaeuser Industrial Research Chair in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) was established at the UBC Pulp and Paper Centre. Martha Salcudean was chosen as the chairholder. CFD is the process of setting up equations, repeating iterations on a computer and interpreting the results to describe how fluid, suspended particles and thermal energy will move in a process, a piece of equipment or a setting.

The CFD Group at the Centre is perhaps the largest in the world focused on pulp and paper, with about 20 people. The work is widespread and ambitious. Salcudean said the group wants to model the entire process — hydrocyclones and screens, digester, paper machine, recovery boiler, power boiler and kiln. Some of the work is already done; some is in development.

Process and equipment design is largely based on experience, Salcudean noted. Therefore, there is a need for more research. Advances in numerical methods, progress in computer speed and memory leads to the possibility of using more scientific methods in process design and optimization.

The use of more exact science will give a better understanding of the processes, help improve them, assist with operating decisions and improve training.

How is modelling done? First, problems must be defined and this, Salcudean stressed, must be done in close contact with industry. Then, establish the governing equations, use dimensional analysis to reduce the variables, establish boundary conditions and model the turbulence.

Practically speaking, the CFD Group already has industrial applications in recovery boiler, hydrocyclone and bark boiler modelling. Models for headboxes and lime kilns are in progress.

Modelling tools for the black liquor recovery boilers were developed to improve existing design and operating procedures to reduce carryover and the environmental effects of boiler emissions. The work was done by analyzing the performance of different air systems and liquor firing strategies. Salcudean said the CFD Group worked on this in collaboration with Paprican, mills and suppliers, Hardware and operating parameters all factor in. Salcudean said that this can be a “delicate” area, suggesting to suppliers that perhaps their designs could be improved upon.

To properly understand a hydrocyclone, it is essential to know what is happening inside one. The CFD Group investigates the flow and particle separation in hydrocyclones, emphasizing fibre separation. From this, it can develop a fully 3D simulation model. It uses suitable turbulence models for high swirl fluid flows.

The headbox project was started about two years ago. The intention is to calculate completely the flow through the headbox and connect the flow properties to the fibre properties. This is done for each of the 400-plus manifold tubes in a headbox. The flow inside a headbox can be analyzed by performing a complete simulation of the plenum diffuser bank and slice. The effect of this approach and exit piping on the flow distribution in the headbox can be evaluated. The root cause of flow non-uniformities can be identified and potential retrofitting can be analyzed. The Group is working on two commercial hydraulic headboxes now.

One way to transfer technology is through spin-off companies. One such company was founded from this CFD group – Process Simulations Ltd. (PSL). It is located in a multi-tenant facility operated by UBC for such companies, located across the street from the Centre. The CFD models for recovery furnaces and headboxes are now commercial offerings of PSL. The company has modelled 14 recovery boilers so far.

Salcudean said that mathematical modelling can “significantly improve” industrial processes, that there are far more opportunities than currently pursued. However, it must be done in collaboration with industry. The advance of CFD requires industrial and university “champions”.

“We want to envelope whole equipment and use neural networks to synthesize it to a stage where it can be used online,” Salcudean explained. “We’re trying to move CFD into the area of running online.”

A balancing act

The importance and interest that the environment has generated in the last generation is reflected at the Centre, particularly with the attention the industry has received over its environmental performance. The Environmental Engineering Group at the Centre also has research/analytical facilities with the departments of Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Microbiology and Immunology.

Eric Hall came to UBC from the Wastewater Technology Centre of Environment Canada to take the Senior Chair in Forest Products Waste Management, established in 1992 and funded by NSERC and the Council of Forest Industries of BC (COFI). The Sustainable Forest Management Network also funds part of the Group’s work.

As can be expected, there is heavy industry involvement – supplying samples/data, project inception/development, co-applications for research grants, direct support of research, hosting on-site projects – with this Group and research projects are carr
ied out from coast to coast.

The projects are balanced between end of pipe treatment and system closure. Work being led by Hall includes wastewater treatment system modelling, life cycle assessment and membrane bioreactors. The latter deals mainly with kraft pulping and is looking to identify likely streams for recycling.

Sheldon Duff and William Mohn hold the other two COFI/NSERC Chairs. Mohn is looking at pollutant degradation, the microbial ecology of biotreatment systems and the metabolism of resin acids. His work has led to the development of gene probes for resin acids, i.e., is it possible to boost resins acids’ degrading capability.

Duff’s work is aimed at the technologies needed for mill closure, e.g., evaporator condensate. Another project is solid waste management, e.g., sludge dewatering and the conversion of primary sludge to fuel ethanol. Duff is heading another project that is studying the treatment of evolving pulp mill effluent. Changes in pulp processes mean changes in effluent properties. There are new things in effluent: high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, chelating agents. Will these things be regulated in the future? Treatment systems do a good job now on BOD and COD but what about chronic toxicity and endocrine disruptors? The industry needs to ensure consistent performance especially as the technology is evolving quickly.

Lest one think everything is aimed at liquid effluent, another member of the environmental group, Richard Branion, is leading work on biofiltration projects and doing some dispersion modelling based on air emissions.

Other projects underway include a high-temperature activated sludge treatment, the treatment of ECF and TCF bleaching effluents, the physico/chemical treatment of white water and the kinetics of biological treatment systems. The latter is looking at how operating conditions affect the kinetics of treatment. The industry can do a much better job of modelling treatment. Kraft effluent is not just a homogeneous mass.

Electrochemical processing is an emerging field. Bleaching and brightening are the most common areas of study but there is also work being done in the electrosynthesis of anthraquinone and waste water treatment.

In the field of mechanical pulping, students are looking at how wood breaks down in primary refining. Where and how do fibres separate? What factors govern separation? This could affect plate design and other parameters that affect refining.

Mixing is ubiquitous in pulp and paper making, but who pays attention to it? Chad Bennington’s group is looking at the fundamentals of mixing including how to measure mixing online. The primary focus is mixing bleaching chemicals. Also, what goes on inside fibres during mixing is being studied. Other related areas are blending and deinking. In the latter, fibre behavior is being studied. This can be linked to control strategies and lead to improved chest design.

Engineers for the industry

In summing up, Kerekes said the Centre contains a “pretty broad-based group, well focussed in various aspects of the industry, but well suited to academic research”. The excellence of the research has been recognized in numerous awards, for example a Weldon Prize, two Killam Research Prizes and two successive NSERC/Conference Board of Canada Synergy awards for R&D Partnerships.

“This excellence gives students a superb training in industry-oriented research” said Kerekes. Evidence of this has been shown in UBC’s winning of the top two prizes for the past 2 years at the Canadian Graduate Student Seminar held each January before PaperWeek.

At the undergraduate level, there are two pulp and paper technology introductory courses at UBC, and many students have done their bachelor’s theses in pulp and paper topics in the Centre. However, the main teaching comes in the non-thesis Master’s program. The aim of this program is to provide technical training at the level of pulp and paper programs of the technical universities of Europe, building pulp and paper technology upon a solid undergraduate engineering education. Much of the lecture material is too advanced to be in standard textbooks, making graduate courses a suitable medium. “It fills an important component of the spectrum of education needs of the industry,” explained Kerekes. Many of the 110 graduates of the UBC non-thesis Master’s program are now in senior positions in the industry.

Attracting students to the industry has always been a challenge, and this has been more so in recent years throughout North America. The challenge has been compounded in BC by the “high public profile, bad news image of the forest industry in the daily press,” Kerekes added.

However, Kerekes remains optimistic. “The situation will improve as more jobs become available,” he said. “Indeed with the large amount of retirements coming up in a few years, coupled with the sizeable change the industry will undergo, there will be unprecedented opportunities for young people. We will have to do a good job showing this image of the industry to young people.”

The industry has weathered tough times in the past. The depth of the programs offered at UBC (and other Canadian universities offering pulp and paper programs), and in particular the Advanced Papermaking Initiative, show that the commitment to serve the industry and the will to advance is strong.P&PC


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