If Alberta Research Council (ARC) engineer Wade Chute
has anything to do with it, Canadas 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 provinces 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.
ARCs involvement in the development of agrifibre
technology included the 2002 Fibrex conference in which members of
Germanys 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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