Four University of New Brunswick Fredericton engineering students are designing a process which could see pulp manufacturers increase production.

The students – Chris McNamara, Alaina Seymour, Lincoln Esau, and Jason Hearn – are designing the process as part of their senior chemical engineering course. The process is intended to help pulp manufacturers extract lignin from wood chips and repurpose it as a biofuel.

Lignin is essentially glue that holds wood chips together. By dissolving the lignin, manufacturers can release the fibres and make products with them.

“The chemical used to dissolve this lignin, they need to recover it, so they use a recovery boiler and burn off the lignin,” said Mr. McNamara. “Our process will extract some of the lignin and use it as a biofuel elsewhere in the plant.”

Should the pulp mill choose to implement this process, there could be positive economic and environmental impacts. It could allow the company to increase production and potentially employ more people. The mill could also use the biofuel in place of other fuels, like natural gas or oil.

The design will be showcased at UNB’s Engineering Design Symposium on March 31 at the Fredericton Convention Centre. There will be a public presentation outlining the design as well as a question and answer session.

Private clients or industry partners sponsor many of the senior engineering projects being showcased at the symposium. Four groups are working separately on this particular project, with both Irving Pulp and Paper and Northern Pulp sponsoring two groups.

The group is currently researching and calculating the cost of the project, as well as what kind of return on investment the mill can expect. This milestone, as it’s called, is the last one the group must complete. They’ve finished six so far.

“We need to show our client and co-mentors we understand the project and the deliverables,” Mr. Hearn said. “We researched relevant processes and formulated the one we thought was most appropriate for this mill.”

Although the four students have worked with industry partners before, usually in the form of summer jobs, this is the first time they’ve worked with one through school. They agree it mimics what a company would expect in the workplace, while still providing a support network.

“This project correlates quite closely with some work I’ve done outside of school,” said Mr. Esau. “It’s nice here because we’re still in an academic setting and we’ve got lots of support from our academic and industrial co-mentors.”

The March 31 Engineering Design Symposium will feature approximately 300 senior engineering students from UNB, who will showcase their design projects. This event is open to the public.

Media contact: Kelsey Pye

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