Agenda 2020 Technology Projects Target Energy Efficiency, Sustainability

With a focus on technology improvement, Agenda 2020’s research roadmaps are helping chart a course for the bioeconomy.


We’re on the MOVE!”

Fritz Paulsen, Kapstone Paper’s research and development manager and chair of the Agenda 2020 Technology Alliance’s board of directors, opened the all-members’ meeting at Auburn University last March with that comment.

In 2016, Agenda 2020 published a set of technology roadmaps focused on energy, natural resource efficiency, and new bio-based products. Support from its member companies, a grant from the National Institute of Science and Technology, and cooperation with its university partners and affiliates made it possible.

Now, only a year later, Agenda 2020 is overseeing a suite of projects estimated at more than US$1,800,000 of member and partner investment over three years, with more projects expected in the near term.

Representatives of the Alliance’s members and affiliates gathered at Auburn University to hear about contracted projects and plans for the next rounds. “We’re in a strong and growing position, and these investments show federal agencies and other grant-making institutions that we’re serious—that we’re bringing something to the table,” Paulsen says. “We want some early wins. We’re hungry for good projects. Bring us your ideas. Our companies have shown that they’ll fund sound projects in our priority interest areas, focused on core technology leading to direct results in our business units.”


The pulp and paper industry is the third most energy-intensive industry in the US, according to the Department of Energy. The industry is an important segment of the manufacturing sector, based on abundant, renewable natural resources and supporting jobs in rural areas. This explains the interest of several agencies in supporting research to make the industry more efficient and to accelerate the conversion to the bioeconomy.

From the industry’s standpoint, not only economics, but also market drivers propel companies to become even more sustainable and resource-conservative. Agenda 2020’s members seek breakthrough reductions in energy and water use and major increases in fiber yield. Technology advancement is how that is done.

The Agenda 2020 roadmaps laid out objectives in each of five priority areas deemed most likely to succeed in achieving breakthrough technology improvement. Today, those roadmaps are being implemented through a series of requests for proposals (RFPs) issued by the five work teams. Three of the five teams have issued RFPs at a proof-of-concept level. The other two are laying the groundwork to do so. Several projects have been awarded and are under way. Projects are typically of 2-year duration, with a checkpoint at the end of the first year.

1. Pulping Process Advances

The Next-Generation Pulping Team is managing three research projects being conducted at Agenda 2020-affiliated universities:

Increasing Pulp Yield by Minimizing Primary Peeling through Pretreatment, Adriaan Van Heiningen, PI, University of Maine

Increasing Kraft Linerboard Yield with High Kappa Pulping and Lignin Modification, Hasan Jameel, PI, North Carolina State University

Lignin Value Prior to Pulping, Andreas Bommarius, PI, Georgia Tech, with significant matching funding from the RBI Endowment

The Next-Gen Pulping team is already thinking about how to fill the pipeline for 2019 and beyond. A spring workshop is under consideration to develop the focus of the next round of RFPs, to be guided by the results of the current projects.

2. Reducing Energy in Chemical Recovery

A team addressing the need to reduce energy in concentrating weak black liquor is exploring membrane-based technology. The idea is to use membranes to increase the solids content of weak black liquor, thereby requiring less energy for evaporation, and to recover the permeate for reuse in the mill.

The challenges are many—just a few of them are constructing a membrane assembly tough enough to withstand the temperature and pH conditions of black liquor; providing enough throughput to handle a mill’s liquor volume; achieving sufficient selectivity in the recovery of pulping chemicals; and obtaining permeate quality sufficient for process destinations to tolerate use of the stream.

The team first built a WinGEMS model of a typical 1,000 tpd mill to predict the economics of various approaches. Kapstone Paper’s Greg Burns, the principal developer of the model, is credited with developing a tool of lasting value to the industry. “Now we have a basis to compare possible membrane configurations and capabilities against a picture of probable results,” he says.

Agenda 2020 has collaborated with Teledyne Corporation on a Department of Energy-funded membrane project. That project, begun in 2012, is working to develop a commercially viable system and is headed for a mill pilot this fall. A project conducted at Georgia Tech (Sankar Nair, PI), with support of the Agenda 2020 companies and the RBI Endowment, developed a graphene oxide membrane that holds promise, producing very high lignin rejections under typical black liquor environments.

Another sponsored project at Georgia Tech, at the University’s Renewable Bioproducts Institute, will build lasting analytical and testing capability. The Bench-Scale Membrane Testing with Characterization of Streams (Scott Sinquefield, PI) will both develop synthetic black liquors for comparative testing of membrane assemblies, and construct a rig on which manufacturers can test their membranes to scalable concepts.

3. Reducing Paper Machine Drying Energy

Another team is exploring two avenues for reducing paper machine drying energy: incorporation of adaptive felts to reduce rewet, and adjusting the furnish through fiber or chemistry changes to improve drainage and dewatering. The team is evaluating nine proposals and determining the level of potential financial and technical support for them.

4. Decreasing Fresh Water Intake

One team is exploring potential ways to reuse the discharges from internal unit processes in the paper mill and thereby reduce fresh water use. Like the black liquor team, this group wants to begin by building a model so that the impacts of mill tightening along with the feasibility and economics of alternatives can be evaluated and compared. Its strategies focus on finding ways to remove suspended solids of 10-40 µm and dissolved organic and colloidal substances from paper machine whitewater, and finding new techniques to mitigate scaling.

5. Cellulosic Nanomaterials: Enabling Platforms and Applications

Several members of the cellulosic nanomaterials team are supporting an oral toxicity study led by Vireo Advisors of Boston (JoAnne Shatkin, PI) to provide data in support of an application to US Food & Drug Administration to classify the materials as “generally regarded as safe.” Success would facilitate significant commercial opportunity in food packaging.

This team is also considering the commissioning of literature surveys to determine the specific technology gaps in drying and in composites applications that may be impeding commercialization. A workshop is tentatively planned for spring 2018.


Agenda 2020 has competed successfully for government grants to augment the industry’s investments. “We initiated two promising projects in 2015 and 2016 through public-private partnerships,” comments Executive Director David Turpin. “For example, as part of the Department of Energy’s High-Performance Computing for Manufacturing (HPC4Mfg) program, we were able to partner with Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories in a project to understand how water moves in and out of the sheet in papermaking. This can ultimately lead to a breakthrough in delivering a drier sheet to the mill’s dryer section, greatly reducing the energy demand.

Another HPC4Mfg project is using high-performance computing to identify candidate compounds for use as delignification catalysts,” he continued. “This project, which began at the US Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory with support from our members, has now been expanded with funding from the Energy Department and with the expertise of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee. The ability to assemble this type of team provides real value to our companies and the industry.”

Turpin feels that this is an exciting time for the pulp and paper industry. “Research is under way and, though it’s still early, results are beginning to accrue. There is nothing like good data to generate good questions,” he says. “The Livermore paper-drying model appears to align well on the front- and back-ends; now we see how to ask deeper questions about what goes on between them. The membrane separation technology should get to the tipping point—a go/no-go decision—within the year. We may start to see candidate pulping catalyst options during a similar time frame.”


A very strong asset we enjoy is the dedication of our team leads and members, who do the heavy lifting in bringing these tantalizing possibilities to fruition,” Turpin adds.

Fritz Paulsen concurs. “That these talented people can come together, share expertise to solve common pre-competitive problems, and drive to results is a great boon to all of us,” Paulsen said. “We welcome engagement from the technical community. Review the roadmaps, give us your ideas, come to a workshop, visit the website—we encourage all comers.” 

The Agenda 2020 Technology Alliance is an industry-led consortium that promotes development of advanced technologies for the pulp and paper industry. For further information, please visit the website at

Kathleen Bennett is principal of Kathleen M. Bennett Consulting, LLC, and a former chair of the TAPPI Board of Directors. She has extensive experience in the pulp and paper industry. Her consulting practice specializes in strategy, development, and industry outreach.

David Turpin (L) and Fritz Paulsen (R) at Auburn University.

Members and partners at the Agenda 2020 All-Members’ Meeting at Auburn in March, 2017.

RAPID Means Opportunity for Pulp & Paper Energy and Bioproducts Research

The Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute, which was announced last December by the US Department of Energy (DoE), should bring significant opportunity for technology advancement in pulp and paper manufacture.

RAPID, a platform created by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and its partners and affiliates, is the latest in a series of Innovative Manufacturing Institutes sponsored by DoE. The department has committed up to US$70 million in matching funds over five years for projects to improve manufacturing productivity and reduce energy usage and feedstock waste.

DoE’s Request for Proposals specifically identified pulp and paper manufacture as an industry of interest, and AIChE was quick to approach Agenda 2020 as a partner in its application. Georgia Tech and its Renewable Bioproducts Institute were also partners, as were the University of Minnesota, Auburn University, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. AIChE’s was the successful bid. Agenda 2020 has joined RAPID as a nonprofit organization, gaining profile for the industry’s research priorities in funding rounds and facilitating participation in projects. There are currently six focus areas in the RAPID structure:

Chemical & Commodity Processing

Intensified Process Fundamentals

Modeling and Simulations

Module Manufacturing

Natural Gas Upgrading

Renewable Bioproducts

RAPID’s Renewable Bioproducts research is focused on investigating, prototyping and/or scaling of process intensification and modular manufacturing technologies that improve energy efficiency and reduce capital and operating costs in the conversion of biorenewable resources and manufacture of biobased products. Shri Ramaswamy, head of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota, serves as co-lead of the focus area, focused on pulp and paper aspects of the bioproducts area.

Renewable Bioproducts and the other focus areas are now preparing technology roadmaps, identifying promising areas to increase productivity and reduce energy. “Having already completed our roadmaps and begun implementation, we have a clear advantage,” said Agenda 2020 Director David Turpin. “While these roadmaps are structured differently from the Agenda 2020 roadmaps of 2016, many of our priorities and suggested approaches are being adopted. This bodes well for the funding prospects of projects of interest to our industry with federal matching funds.”

To learn more, visit or contact [email protected].

NC State post-doc Ved Naithani prepares the oxygen delignification equipment for a trial.

Announcement at PEERS

Learn more about these Agenda 2020 initiatives and future plans at TAPPI PEERS, November 6-8 in Norfolk, VA. During the conference, executive director David Turpin will address a plenary session Monday morning. Following that, a distinguished panel of industry leaders and experts will discuss the state of technology research and the outlook for these investments in our industry.

PEERS attendees will be among the first to learn about an important
Agenda 2020 milestone. See sidebar on page 22 to learn more about PEERS; visit to register.