The Paper Trail
In UMaine's Pulp And Paper Process Development Center, Proserfina
Bennett Manages Success Stories
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"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
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
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
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
for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.