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The Paper Trail

The Paper Trail
In UMaine's Pulp And Paper Process Development Center, Proserfina Bennett Manages Success Stories

About the Photo: "Because the industry uses large amounts of energy and other resources, even a small improvement can mean a huge dollar savings. One company told me it is saving $1 million annually based on a three-day test run in our pilot plant." Proserfina Bennett

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Have a new idea to test? If you're a pulp and paper company in Maine, your first phone call may be to Proserfina Bennett, managing director of The University of Maine's Pulp and Paper Process Development Center in Jenness Hall.

For more than 20 years, the center has conducted research aimed at improving products, processes and environmental quality for the pulp and paper industry. As managing director, Bennett coordinates the center's labs and production facilities, which include a 50-foot-long papermaking machine that can produce 500 pounds of paper a day. Also found in the center are digesters, mechanical pulpers, presses and other devices that turn wood and other fibrous materials into finished paper.

The University of Maine Pulp and Paper Foundation raised the money to build and later expand the facility, which is one of the few in the country that simulates the production process in a modern mill, allowing researchers to efficiently and effectively test new pulp and paper recipes.

As pulp and paper firms have trimmed research budgets, the UMaine center has come to play a more crucial role in developing new technology. The results have been dramatic. In collaboration with a staff of 10 chemical engineering scientists, Bennett has led efforts to develop new pulping and recycling processes that are used in the industry today.

"Because the industry uses large amounts of energy and other resources, even a small improvement can mean a huge dollar savings," she says. "One company told me it is saving $1 million annually based on a three-day test run in our pilot plant."

Bennett, who earned a UMaine bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1982, is currently working with the DuPont Corp., and Sappi Fine Paper North America, to apply patented laboratory technology to a full-scale paper mill. When her presence is not required in a mill or in the lab, she writes research proposals, interviews potential student employees and keeps an eye on the center's budget.

"Dave Kraske, the first director of the center, recognized Proserfina's leadership ability," says Joe Genco, the center's current director and a UMaine professor of chemical engineering. "When she first came to the center in 1984, she did research with Art Fricke on black liquor, the dissolved wood solids that are a by-product of the Kraft pulping process. As the center grew over the past decade, she gradually took on more responsibilities."

Initially, the center's work focused on monitoring systems, checking data, and testing paper or pulp. Today, it is dedicated to improving pulp and paper processes and products.

The center's annual budget exceeds $500,000, entirely supported by fees charged to industrial clients.

"We're particularly strong in pulping and bleaching technologies," says Bennett. "We help to make better paper. We work with the industry to save money and make it more competitive."

Bennett also has a role in connecting students with cutting-edge research and real-world applications. She advises the UMaine student chapters of the Paper Industry Management Association (PIMA) and the Technical Association for the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI). She works closely with the four or five students employed at the center each academic year.

This spring, Bennett will accompany 20 chemical engineering students to the annual TAPPI conference in Atlanta, Ga.

In coming years, some of these young chemical engineers will again work with Bennett. They will be like other UMaine graduates now employed by pulp and paper companies who use the Pulp and Paper Process Development Center to advance the industry.

by Nick Houtman
April-May, 2002

Click Here for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.


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