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Wade Chute

Alberta Research CouncilIf Alberta Research Council (ARC) engineer Wade Chute has anything to do with it, Canada’s pulp and paper industry will soon be using agrifibres, or non-wood fibres, to create their product.

Trained as a chemical engineer at the University of British Columbia, Chute was exposed to the province’s pulp and paper industry both at school and while working for a pulp mill on Vancouver Island. After graduating in 1991, Chute moved to Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan to work on the start-up of a zero-percent effluent pulp mill, one of two in Canada. In June 1999, Chute joined the ARC and was soon exposed to the wonders of agricultural fibres.

Hundreds of years ago, before wood was being utilized, agrifibres were used in the making of paper. In fact, paper was made from rags, made of cotton or linen. In the early to mid-1800s, these rags were in short supply and the paper industry sought out new primary resources. In North America, trees were both abundant and free of cost and thus, the industry sought to use wood. This shift in materials coincided with the development of technology in almost every sector and resulted in machinery designed to make pulp and paper specifically from wood.

In recent years, members of the pulp and paper industry, like Chute, have been considering issues of environmental sustainability and are looking toward incorporating agrifibres into production. It seems the benefits are numerous. Being annual plants, agrifibres take considerably less time to grow than trees, need less time to pulp than wood and are often stronger. In addition to the pulp and paper industry, Chute expects the agricultural industry would benefit from incorporating agrifibres into pulp and paper-making as producers of various crops will be required.

Implementing agrifibres into the existing pulp and paper industry poses a number of problems, and that is why Chute, head of the agrifibre department at the ARC, is currently working on developing technologies to combat various problems arising from production with different materials. He is working on preventing the production of glass by silica. In pulping cereal straw, silica is released and turns into glass, creating potential danger in pulping machines. Chute and the ARC have developed a process to circumvent this problem and a patent is pending.

ARC’s involvement in the development of agrifibre technology included the 2002 Fibrex conference in which members of Germany’s pulp and paper industry visited Canada to discuss agrifibres. Since then, a partnership between the two countries regarding the sharing of information concerning agrifibre technology has ensued. In 2004, Alberta will again host the conference.

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