Industry leaders come together for workshop hosted by RBI
The future of forest products-related industries will not solely be based upon emerging technologies, but on continuous improvement in foundational technologies and new, higher margin products from existing processes.
“Advancing Foundational Technologies to Improve the Bottom Line,” was hosted at Georgia Tech’s Renewable Bioproducts Institute and brought together industry leaders along with RBI affiliated faculty and students to discuss new advances in research and applications to the pulp and paper industry.
RAPID Manufacturing Institute CEO and Georgia Tech alum William Grieco opened the workshop discussing how his organization is using public-private partnerships to driving competitiveness in US manufacturing in the global landscape.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the establishment of the 10th Manufacturing USA Institute, the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute. Leveraging up to $70 million in federal funding, RAPID is focused on developing breakthrough technologies to boost energy productivity and energy efficiency by 20 percent in five years. RAPID will leverage approaches to modular chemical process intensification used in a variety of industries. Its focus on renewable bioproducts can be found here.
"We are focused on process intensification and modularization with unit operations keying in on reactions, separations and more," Grieco said. "We're putting these together to get a specific outcome. The chemical engineering Process Intensification (PI) is applying new forcing functions or changing time scales and getting them to match more carefully. Engineering can unlock new aspects of what can happen in this process. We're redesigning to enhance performance and remove bottlenecks. This often results in lower costs, better efficiencies like energy use. There is more attention now than ever to PI because it enables the next piece: Modular Processing."
Modular Processing is a drive toward designing at standardized units, like assembly lines. RAPID is focusing on merging traditional manufacturing discreet based with process industries making fluids and solids. Rather than scaling in volume, this process allows by unit. This allows modular processing to be taken to the field where the natural resources are located, an advantageous step in the world of renewable bioproducts.
The process intensification and modular processing focuses on six areas: chemical commodity processes; renewable bioproducts; natural gas upgrading; modeling and simulations; intensified process fundamentals; and module manufacturing.
RAPID will fund 32 projects whose span is two to four years. Funding ranges from $100,000 to $1.4M. Academia and industry partner on each project. Grieco said his role is to match an industry withe an academic partner that is doing research in an area where the industry has come upon a challenge.
In the area of renewable bioproducts, for example, we are looking a renewable biofeedstock processing, driving energy and capital efficiency," he said. "We are interested in projects that find new ways to separate more efficiently or finding new ways to extract new value."
While RAPID has committed the lion's share of federal funding to existing projects, later in 2019, the organization plans to fund shorter projects solving problems very relevant to business segments, possibly in the public-private partnership model. Grieco said he would like to engage the industry in a workshop to understand the challenges and create an RFP based on those specific requests.
"We know processing intensification resonates with the needs of the pulp and paper industry by looking at, for instance, pulping and bleaching. We looked at the traditional approach and figured out a better way. The chemical industry has already done some of this through refining process intensifications over the years to become more efficient."
Some of the other presenters during the workshop included:
• Professor Bernard Kippelen discussed "Making Paper Intelligent: Paper Electronics." Kippelen's research focuses on printed electronics and using paper as an appealing substrate. His take-home message was less plastic, more paper, smarter paper. Find out more about his presentation here.
• Assistant Professor Blair Brettmann presented her work on Molecular interactions with Cellulose and described a wide range of possibilities. Find out more about her presentation here.
• Professor Carson Meredith discussed his research on using more biorenewable materials in the realm of barrier packaging, a grand challenge in the area of food preservation in particular. Dr. Meredith stated the packaging is at a crossroads of sorts as consumer perceptions of plastics are changing. Read more about his presentation here.
• Professor Cyrus Aidun and Marco Lucisano (senior vice president at the Research Institute of Sweden) delivered a joint presentation on "The Next Generation Paper Machines." Their presentation centered on the sustainability within the pulp and paper industry. Making sustainability profitable will require resource and production efficiency, production flexibility and innovation in business models and technology. Paper material is limited to which structures machines can deliver. Lucisano argues the need to take control of the structure. Both discussed multi-phase forming and air-assisted forming which deliver direct savings on energy, but big opportunities are with fiber raw materials, which deliver savings and competing with higher margin grades from improved quality.
Attendees of the workshop were also given the opportunity to engage one on one with graduate students whose research aligns with the challenges and opportunities posed by using renewable materials during a poster session and luncheon.