Is paper one of the first things that comes to mind when you think about forest products? FPL has been at the forefront of developing innovative and environmentally friendly methods for producing this ubiquitous product. Chemist Marguerite Sykes, who worked in FPL’s pilot plant from 1971 until her retirement in 2002, was a key player in paper pulping research and development.
The challenge for FPL scientists has been to economically and sustainably increase the yield of pulp from wood. FPL developed a pulping process that significantly increased pulp yield and allowed use of many underutilized hardwoods. Research at FPL also improved the sulfate (kraft) pulping process so that many softwoods could be used in paper making. These practices have extended timber supply and enhanced forest management.
During her tenure at FPL, Sykes worked on many interdisciplinary teams and co-authored nearly 60 papers. In an interview with the University of Wisconsin U.S. Forest Products Lab Centennial Oral History Project, Sykes speaks with passion for that work: “I think everything I worked on the last fifteen years [was] extraordinarily exciting and I think they were kind of breakthrough topics [such as how] to replace the chemicals for pulping and bleaching and recycling with more environmentally sound methods like enzymes or hydrogen peroxide for bleaching. And so everything was new, and although some people had been doing it, none of these techniques were being used commercially. So it was just kind of ground work on some of these things that made it very exciting.”
Sykes speaks more about how this work came to be. From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, “recycling became big just because landfills were being filled so rapidly,” and people threw out an enormous amount of paper. In addition to recycling work, Sykes felt that existing recycling processes used an excess of chemicals that were “very harmful to the [effluent] waters that came out of the mill.” These chemicals, she says, were defeating any environmental benefits. For this reason, Sykes and others “started using enzymes for de-inking, and that too is an innovative idea.”
Sykes also talks about making handsheets, where in the test lab, “you slurry the pulp and there is a special instrument of sheet mold that you make a hand sheet and all the tests are brightness, how white it is, how strong it is, how easy it tears go back to the basic hand sheet.”
Paper. It’s all around us. FPL thanks this innovative and enthusiastic scientist for her work in improving paper production.