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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
In this age of the world's demands for pulp and paper being met by fewer mills (at least in developed countries) rather than more, what is to be done with superfluous facilities? Scrap them? Turning usable equipment and facilities into scrap metal is a horrendous waste of potential. That is one good reason why the word "repurpose" keeps bubbling up, not least here in TAII's digital columns.

"But to what purpose?" That is the logical response to the suggestion of repurposing. The less logical response in return is, "Go find it."

The chemistry and engineering departments of pulp and paper companies--and their supplier companies, as well--house an enormous amount of brain power. For the most part, however, this brain power seems chiefly harnessed to the search for more and better ways to keep on doing the same old things. A likely result of finding more and better ways to keep on doing the same old things will be mill and machine closures occasioned by superfluity.

What might happen if the tremendous brain power resident in pulp and paper companies was put to work thinking and dreaming about new products, new uses for existing technology?

Once-upon-a-time, some chemists at work in the laboratories of 3M Co. developed an adhesive compound that had such low tack they didn't know what to do with it. And so it sat there. Until one of the chemists, who sang in his local church choir, hit upon the idea of tagging some slips of paper with the stuff to mark the pages in his hymnbook. Other choir members saw them and also wanted some of those low-tack markers. After a great deal of chin-stroking and experimentation in the lab and offices, Post-it Notes™ were born. Innumerable billions have been sold.

Scientists at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology have reported turning nanocellulose into a product that holds an electric charge. The material resembles a mattress, but is lighter, a little harder and more porous. The creators of the material say that the technology is scalable and, when economically viable, could provide a spongy filling for clothing, cars and even mattresses. Someday your mattress could recharge your cellphone.

One of the researchers on the project, Dr. Mahiar Hamedi, said the process involved freezing nanocellulose derived from wood pulp, transforming a resulting liquid into a gas through freeze-drying, thus creating an "aerogel." Batteries are produced by coating the interior surface of the aerogel with an ink that conducts electricity.

The report said this technological advance is the culmination of a three-year study in which Swedish and American scientists have been researching the production of 3D batteries. A big benefit of 3D batteries is a vastly increased surface area that allows for huge energy storage potential.

As the world drives on toward renewable energy, in solar power in particular, said Dr. Hamedi, "we will see an increasing need for versatile battery production that can be sourced from renewable materials. This new technology could be a first step toward that goal." And it may be only 5 to 10 years away.

We might say that the scientists have repurposed wood pulp.

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.

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