WMU News

WMU receives paper tech patents from Kimberly-Clark

April 1, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Patented technology that could turn paper-mill sludge into viable consumer products and boost the usefulness of recycled paper will be developed by Western Michigan University, thanks to an April 1 technology transfer made to WMU's Paper Technology Foundation by consumer giant Kimberly-Clark.

The firm has presented three technologies related to fiber and by-product processing to WMU's Paper Technology Foundation. The gift, which was announced at the foundation's semiannual meeting in Kalamazoo, includes a total of seven patents. The technology will spark three separate research initiatives on campus, as faculty researchers develop and commercialize the technology. Kimberly-Clark's gift also includes funds and equipment to support the research projects.

"These gifts to WMU are just another example of how we continue to strengthen our overall industry-university relationships," says Cheryl Perkins, Kimberly-Clark's senior vice president and chief technical officer. We are delighted to have identified such a quality institution that will further advance these technologies and pursue the commercial opportunities they present."

"It's a tremendous compliment to have such an industry leader recognize the University's faculty for its expertise and entrust important technology to us so that it can be developed and commercialized in a way that will make a real difference in the marketplace," said WMU President Judith I. Bailey of the gift. "We're absolutely delighted to count Kimberly-Clark among our industry partners and look forward to a long and productive relationship with the company."

Talks with Kimberly-Clark representatives have been under way since June, and company executives made several visits to the campus to tour WMU's engineering facilities and meet with members of the faculty and Paper Technology Foundation. Company officials say it was the quality of WMU's programs that led to the selection of WMU as the recipient of the technology donation.

"Western Michigan University was selected as the recipient for these technologies because of its strong engineering program in paper and printing science," says Corrine Sukiennik, director of Kimberly-Clark Worldwide's Global Technology Transfer program. "Of special importance is the existence of the school's pilot paper facility and the opportunity it presents in conducting research with the donated technologies. In addition, the University's Paper Technology Foundation, made up of leading industry companies, provides the support and guidance required to impact the future of the pulp and paper industry--which represents one of our country's key renewable resources."

"With this gift, Kimberly-Clark makes an important public statement about the value of the paper programs at WMU," says John Bergin, president of the Paper Technology Foundation and senior vice president of Stora Enso. "We are extremely grateful for their support, since it represents an investment in the future of our industry."

According to James Tanner of Kimberly-Clark's technology transfer team and WMU's John Ferguson, executive director of the foundation, the three technologies given to WMU all share a basic similarity. They involve the treatment of paper fiber and the by products of paper processing to modify fibers so they can be reused to produce consumer products. Research on the patents will be done primarily in WMU's McCracken Hall Paper Pilot Plant and will involve faculty and students from the University's paper engineering program the as well as their colleagues in the Department of Chemistry.

Dr. Said AbuBakr, chairperson of Department of Paper Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Imaging describes the gift and the opportunities it represents as a major step forward in enhancing departmental research resources and supporting graduate students.

"We'll be able to recruit and support promising graduate students and our faculty will have an opportunity to take on a new line of cutting-edge research," says AbuBakr. "We expect it to lead to technical advances for the industry and the development of additional patents. With the success we expect, the industry could enjoy the opportunity to add a portfolio of value-added products to its list of possibilities."

AbuBakr says the McCracken Hall paper machine will be slightly modified to do testing for one of the lines of research. In addition to research that focuses on paper mill sludge as a source of raw material for new paper products, he says research also will focus on technology that treat recycled fiber in a way that would eliminate hard-to-remove adhesives. The third line of research will look at fibers in which the super molecular structure has been modified to improve physical performance.

The patent technology transfer is one of a series of such partnerships announced between WMU and various corporations in recent years, and such initiatives have become a major focus for the University. In December, the WMU Research Foundation was established to facilitate such technology transfer, and the Kimberly-Clark gifts will be among the first technologies to flow through the new foundation.

Kimberly-Clark Worldwide Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Kimberly-Clark Corp., which is a leading global consumer products company. Its tissue, personal care and health care products are manufactured in 43 countries and sold in more than 150. Kimberly-Clark is home to some of the world's most trusted and recognized brands, including Kleenex, Scott, Huggies, Pull-ups, Kotex and Depend.

WMU's Paper Technology Foundation, established in 1958, supports and enhances the internationally known paper programs offered by WMU's Department of Paper Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Imaging. It also helps recruit and financially assist young men and women who wish to pursue careers in the pulp and paper industry. Foundation members include many of the leading figures in the nation's paper industry.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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