Pulp and paper research community works to maintain network after NCE funding

Guest Contributor
October 27, 2003

The forestry research community is demonstrating that life can continue after funding from the Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) has run its course. A new network has arisen following the expiry last year of support for the Mechanical Wood-Pulps NCE (MWPN). The new network is being kept alive by $500,000 over two years from the NCE program — funds designed to maintain the networking and technology transfer operations of a Network while it seeks to redefine itself and secure new sources of research funding.

The result is the Canadian Pulp and Paper Network for Innovation in Education and Research (PAPIER), which — like its predecessor — will maintain a close relationship with the industry through the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada (PAPRICAN). PAPRICAN provided the administrative centre for MWPN and continues to furnish a host of services for PAPIER while it prepares strategic and action plans for moving forward.

Those plans have been completed and disseminated throughout the research community. They include four research themes, the largest of which is nano particles as they relate to pulp and paper. The other proposed research themes are: application of computational dynamics to pulp and paper processes; development of novel, natural fibres-based materials; and, non-wood fibres as paper-making materials.

According to PAPIER managing director Dr George Rosenberg, the community and its industry partners are unified in their support for proposed research thrusts facilitated through a network driven by innovation rather than research. He also contends that PAPIER is aligned with the objectives of the national innovation strategy and go well beyond the resources of a single institution, necessitating a network to ensure that the pulp and paper industry remains innovative and competitive.

“PAPIER can help researchers pool their resources and bring together people and institutions that have limited resources. The strategy is partnership and collaboration,” says Rosenberg. “Maintaining a network will help build up relationships between university researchers and researchers and industry, so it is well positioned to take on new problems or capitalize on new opportunities as they come up.”

Rosenberg notes that MWPN became very adept at gaining a deeper understanding of processes leading to new products, commercializing research results and training students for technical careers. He sees PAPIER continuing on all these fronts, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale.


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PAPIER is being observed closely by the NCE directorate in Ottawa. In fact the network is being treated as a test case for its new Research Management Fund (RMF), which provides funds for NCEs whose funding is set to expire. As the first recipient of RMF funding PAPIER’s success or failure will also be examined by many other NCEs, many of which are nearing the end of their life NCE funding (see box)


NCE director Jean-Claude Gavrel says that Networks are evolving from a research-driven to an innovation-driven model in which industry has a larger role in determining the research agenda, in conjunction with the academic research community.

“PAPIER has the right perception of what the NCE program is all about and the need to continue,” says Gavrel. “Ultimately it means that its researchers are contributing their own funds and are prepared to work together and pool their resources. This is really good news and a changing view of how they use research funding.”

For PAPIER to survive, however, it must successfully identify and secure new sources of research funding. The most logical target is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and its various programs focused on university-industry collaboration. The largest of these is the Collaborative Research Program (CRP) which offers grants of $500,000 to $1 million a year for five years. Other NSERC programs for which are being considered are: Research Network Grants, Technology Partnerships Program and Intellectual Property Management Program. These offer less money than the CRP but they all require industry participation and some level of cash or in-kind contributions from partner companies.

For Dr Joseph Wright, the success of MWPN and its importance to the pulp and paper industry make a compelling argument for the success of PAPIER. As the president and CEO of PAPRICAN and the chair of PAPIER’s interim board of directors,Wright says the research conducted by MWPN injected fresh thinking and novel inventions into the industry and that collaboration must continue.

“We need to reach into the universities for the science, get at the fundamentals and then internalize the results in industry,” he says. “We need to get at things that are enablers for new technologies leading to value-added products, services and functionality. We decided on nano particles because it’s topical and current and it will also engaged yet another set of skills not in the industry.”

The nano particles proposal calls for $15 million over five years to develop functional papers that could have passive or active electronic capability, or even biological activity.

Wright contends that NSERC remains PAPIER’s best bet, but whatever source is successfully tapped, it must happen within the next six to eight months, or PAPIER’s momentum could be compromised.

“It will die. We can’t keep the researchers engaged without money,” he asserts. “PAPIER is open to direct contributions from anybody but given the state of confusion in Ottawa, I wouldn’t know where to submit a proposal.”

At a meeting of NCEs in Vancouver in early December, PAPIER officials will be sharing their experiences. Rosenberg says the lessons learned should help others in further defining their efforts to continue beyond life NCE funding.

“You need to act quickly in advance of the termination of the network but the most critical thing is to get the researchers committed,” says Rosenberg. “You need the commitment of the sector, the industry and the board for leadership. What we did was take the time to develop a strategic plan and prioritize research themes.”


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