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Partners in the future?

In the author's view, the pulp and paper industry is neglecting obvious and valuable research facilities - the universities

Between now and 1995 at the latest, new environmental legislation will force paper companies to modify considerably their pollution control strategy to substantially reduce the level of the various pollutants they discharge.

At issue are suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand, toxicity, pH, and organochlorinated compounds, including dioxins. Moreover, with regard to newsprint exports to the united States, several states will be demanding recycled fibre content of up to 50%. In order to protect and maintain their export markets, most Canadian paper companies will have to modify their production processes to incorporate recycled fibres at the level and quality required.

It is to be expected that recyclable fibre imports will reach more than two million tonnes in the next four or five years. For their part, kraft mills will have to modify their bleaching systems to partially or totally eliminate dioxins and furans. These are some of the challenges of the 1990s.

In recent years, many paper companies have dissolved their research and development groups or considerably reduced their activities. Although we are going through the most severe recession since the 1930s, it is felt that the paper companies have only deferred dealing with certain problems inherent in the pulp and paper industry. In many cases, research and development personnel have been used as technical support staff.

At the crossroads

Canada currently finds itself at the crossroads. In a sector in which it felt sure of itself and where competition was almost nonexistent, it now finds itself threatened by newcomers (e.g., the southern United States as well as several Latin American countries). These regions can now produce products which may be classified as "commodities" at a more than competitive level.

Those who a short while ago were competing with Canada (Sweden and Finland, for example) have surpassed us and now occupy choice niches in what is commonly called the "semi-commodities", or, even better, high-value-added products.

Furthermore, one might wonder what specific action plans will assist in the transition from producers of commodities to producers of semi-commodities and, finally, high-valued added products? With the disappearance of most research and development units and a certain technical weakness within a very great number of mills, the chances of success seem limited.

Several means exist when it comes to acquiring new technologies: internal development; takeovers; license purchases; internal creation of competence; external research and co-operation agreements. It must be understood that each needs its own strategy and implementation period.

Assuming that basic research should be conducted outside the paper mills in, for example, national research institutes, and that most of the latter will contribute to it, effective organizational links must exist so that possible transfers can be effected. And the paper companies still must possess the capacity to absorb and transform this type of knowledge. This is a scenario in which the benefits may be very limited, since the paper companies are very resistant to change.

The myths

of co-operation

Already, research facilities exist that are barely used by the paper companies - the universities. Several myths persist with regard to industry-university co-operation and the benefits for each of the parties.

Is it true to say industry derives little from agreements of this kind and that they are to be tolerated but not encouraged? Research directors must be on the look-out for new technologies outside the walls of their institutions. Surely the university remains an ideal place in this regard! Industry and universities must establish evaluation mechanisms for the benefit of each partner.

Is it true that success is assured once the directors of industrial research and their academic counterparts have ironed out all the minute details? Transfers of knowledge will not become mutually beneficial until the scientists of the industrial world are convinced of the value of "outsiders" participation. Often, it is person-to-person co-operation that works most easily. Further, it appears that the more research facilities are brought closer together, the easier it is to work jointly.

Is it true that it is unlikely that this type of co-operation will be beneficial for both parties? Instead of inviting consultants who, as the need arises, examine problems and propose various solutions, why not adopt a consultant? The initial risks are low, and once the aspects regarding the confidentiality of the research conducted are resolved, the consultant's expertise will only grow. This is also a way of requalifying existing personnel when required and contributing to the upper management's acceptance of new research programs.

It is also possible to co-operate in relation to specific technological equipment by the use of a joint post-doctoral researcher, for example.

Is it true that the cultures are so different that the chances of success are sum, or, conversely, will industry obtain a leading-edge technology by means of such agreements? Once these differences are identified and resolved, e.g., publishing results (where it is, in any case, easy to conclude agreements), it is important that the company becomes fully involved, not only financially, but also at the level of follow-up, via its scientific personnel. In a lasting partnership, it is easy to carry out monitoring.

Unlike the universities, industry possesses the resources (production, sales, marketing, etc.) which can accelerate and complement the technological aspects.

Is it true that technological co-operation is only for large companies? In reality, companies of any size can participate, be it at the level of research and development, education and training or technical assistance.

The UQTR Centre

de Recherche

The Centre de recherche en pates et papiers at the Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres (UQTR) was first established as a research group in November 1972. With its gradual evolution and the consolidation of staff and programs, both at the level of research and teaching, the research group was accredited as a Centre by the board of governors of the university in September 1977.

While preparing tomorrow's professionals (course work) and scientists (master's and doctoral levels), the themes of research, both basic and applied, have constantly evolved and anticipated industry's needs.

Over the years, programs relating to the grafting of polymer materials onto cellulose chains has continued, with copolymerization and non-traditional bleaching being recent developments.

A basic concern of the Centre has been high-yield and very-high-yield pulp. The range of research has enabled all the members to contribute their particular expertise, in addition to providing collective results. Work has focused on little-used or unused forest species such as aspen, birch, larch and maple or which cause problems in paper mills (jackpine).

Armed with this body of expertise, efforts are now directed toward new materials and new technologies. These include cellulose fibre-based composites, pulp produced by rapid expansion (explosion pulps), the detoxification of effluents by biological means, recyclable fibres, coating, applying infrared and microwave technology to the pulp and paper industry, and the photochemistry of cellulose materials.

Sources of funding

The Centre's research activities are supported by regular government agencies (various NSERC and FCAR-Quebec programs) and by specific governmental and para-public contributions. The specific contributions come from the Quebec ministry of forestry, Centre quebecois de la Valorisation de la Biomasse, research contracts, and analysis services and sponsorships with the paper industry, equipment manufacturers and chemical producers and consulting firms.

In the last three years, more than 60 different organizations have availed themselves of the services offered by the Centre. For 1991-1992, research grants, contracts and services total $1.6 million. Excluding professors' salaries, the university's financial contribution is an additional 15% of the aforementioned total.

Interuniversity co-operation exists with PAPRICAN (the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada.), the Ecole Polytechnique de montreal, and the following universities: Laval, McGill, Sherbrooke and UBC.

At the international level, official agreements are in effect with research institutes and universities (in Brazil, China, the United States, France, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Russia and Czechoslovakia). As part of a multi-national pulp and paper research program, the Centre collaborates with the Organization of American States, including the following countries: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru and Venezuela.

The team

Five professors on secondment from the department of engineering, two professors on secondment from the department of chemistry/biology, and three associate professors, including two from PAPRICAN, constitute the nucleus of the research team. Solid research support is provided by research officers, research trainees, doctoral and master's students, and technicians, more than 70 people.

The benefits

The members of the Centre constantly present and publish the results of their research, in close co-operation with the students. On a public level, these are supplemented by numerous confidential reports and many patents. After 20 years, the number of full-time staff working at the Centre is around 40; external sources of funding have increased tenfold, as has the number of staff.

Some clients

Albany International Cascades Casco Centre de Technologie Noranda CRIQ Diachem Domtar Donohue DuPont Canada Forintek Gaz Metropolitain Hymac James Maclaren Kruger Niagara Lockport Norton Canada Oxychem Canada Perkins Papers Quebec and Ontario Paper Sentinel Canada Sunds Defibrator Tembec Virchem West Coast Wires
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Title Annotation:pulp and paper industries of Canada
Author:Valade, Jacques L.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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