Georgia-Pacific contributes US$100,000 to Auburn University in Alabama to help fund new state-of-the-art digester that will give engineering students ability to test and improve school's newly patented additive for kraft pulping process

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March 20, 2023 (press release) –

March 20, 2023

Auburn, Alabama – Out with the old, in with the new! 

Georgia-Pacific has contributed $100,000 to Auburn University to help fund a new state-of-the-art digester that will give engineering students the ability to test and improve a newly patented innovation in papermaking.

The current digester in the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering (AC-PABE) at AU is over 30 years old with many operational issues and no longer meets teaching and research needs. That’s why the AC-PABE contacted Georgia-Pacific, a long-time partner of AU and the pulp and paper program.  

“We have developed a new additive for the kraft pulping process and have been granted a US patent for this technology,” said Dr. Zhihua Jiang, Auburn Pulp and Paper Foundation associate professor and director, AC-PABE. “The new digester will allow us to systematically evaluate the effect of the new additive under various operating conditions and optimize and make the technology ready for a commercial scale trial. It will also be used in our other research projects to further improve the pulping efficiency.”

A digester is a key piece of equipment used in the paper-making process. Pulp mill digesters use heat and chemicals to break down wood chips into pulp. The pulp is then further refined and processed to produce paper products.

Johnnie Pearson, director of pulp power and recovery center of excellence for Georgia-Pacific, graduated from AU with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and knows how important this donation is to the school, students and future generations of Georgia-Pacific. 

“I still use all my experiences from Auburn every day. It’s the fundamental basis of how I came into the industry and evolved,” said Pearson. “I worked on the old digester when I was in school, and the new equipment will dramatically impact the students and advance their cooking techniques. To this day, I still go back to my hands-on experiences.”

Students working in the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering (AC-PABE) at Auburn University.

Once the new digester is installed sometime in 2023, students will be able to operate the digester, produce pulp from wood chips and evaluate the effect of reaction conditions on yield and pulp properties. In addition, the digester will allow students, for the first time to effectively study and learn the kinetics of the pulping process by evaluating the changes in liquor compositions.

“Georgia-Pacific values our commitment to our community partners like Auburn University,” said Hudson Pope, senior vice president of Georgia-Pacific operations and president of the Auburn Pulp and Paper Foundation. “AU is rooted in outstanding instruction and meaningful research. The educational experience that donations like this can provide for students is invaluable and critical to their success after graduation, something Georgia-Pacific is proud to be a part of.”

While the digester used in the AC-PABE is on a much smaller scale than what’s used in a Georgia-Pacific mill, it’s an integral part of the hands-on education for students at Auburn. 

An example of a pulp mill digester that uses heat and chemicals to break down wood chips into pulp.

“I think anybody within this pulp and paper program will benefit,” said Bradley Lowery, an AU chemical engineering student. “The new digester will be state of the art. The hands-on learning capability goes much further than what you can get from a textbook.”

Bradley will graduate in May 2023 and take his education and experience to Georgia-Pacific’s Alabama River Cellulose mill, where he’ll be doing mechanical reliability.   

“My father has worked for Georgia-Pacific for the last 15 or so years. So, I've learned a lot about how they do business,” said Bradley. “Once I came to Auburn, I was fortunate enough to be on the pulp and paper scholarship, which I am very grateful for. Georgia-Pacific has put many meals on my family’s table and has really brought things full circle for me. The learning I gained at Auburn and now going to work for Georgia-Pacific after graduation: it’s really been such a blessing in my life. I can’t thank Georgia-Pacific enough.”

 

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