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Author list: Ferritsius, Olof
Publication year: 2019


Heterogeneity may be a most proper word to describe paper and board. Wood, the raw material to produce mechanical pulps, is almost as heterogeneous a material as the products. Looking in a microscope at a mechanical pulp it is obvious that it consists of a huge amount of small particles, which vary very much in several aspects: length, curl, width, wall thickness, fibrillation etc. In spite of that, we (scientists, mill employees, suppliers, consultants, researchers) commonly describe a pulp in terms of collective properties such as averages of fibre dimensions, hand sheet properties, dewatering ability etc. In other words: we describe mechanical pulp as a continuum. This may be more common than we believe. A review of the variables used in the more than 5,000 graphs in the preprints of the 23 International Mechanical Pulping Conferences (IMPC) between 1973 and 2018 showed that 97% of the variables described mechanical pulp as a continuum. Hence, only 3% of the variables reflected the heterogeneous nature of mechanical pulps. Many authors point out the benefits of describing the character of a material by as few and as independent properties as possible. In 1957, Steenberg stated: “Any valuable theory must be supposed to include a number of independent factors”. However, within the mechanical pulping area it is common practise to evaluate the character of pulp with respect to a wide range of more or less correlated measured pulp and fibre properties. In the review of the last 23 IMPCs we found that more than 96% of the variables examined in the articles where of that kind. In our efforts to describe a mechanical pulp with respect to its highly heterogeneous nature we have among others been inspired by Forgacs who worked with independent common factors in order to characterize mechanical pulps. He presented a paper in 1963 where he states that at least two independent factors are needed to describe a mechanical pulp. They reflect shape and length of the particles. Also Strand has inspired us with his work in the 80’s where he used factor analysis on a huge database to derive two independent common factors reflecting “bonding” (Factor 1) and “fibre length” (Factor 2). Examining a few independent common factors instead of several conventionally measured properties, which are more or less correlated, makes it easier to get an overview of the status of the processed material. Therefore, it is a little surprising that independent common factors constitute only 4% of the variables presented at the IMPCs since 1973. Strands approach was tested in a long-term evaluation in two mills. It was possible to produce a paper product more uniform in quality, compared to common practise. However, none of the above-mentioned independent factors reflects the heterogeneity of the pulp. Paper and pulp makers commonly agree that, within certain limits, uniformity is the most important characteristic of both the pulp and the paper. If we know how to perform uniformly, we may also be able to move into other operating areas (or volumes) in a controlled way. However, there is no common agreement on how to define ""uniformity"". Papermakers are still to a great extent specifying their demands on the pulp in terms of dewatering ability and average length-weighted fibre length although the correlation to product quality is vague and weak and varies over time. Almost since the advent of mechanical pulping processes, the operators have for process control had readings of dewatering ability of a pad consisting of billions of particles expressed as mL of water and average length-weighted fibre length of the pulp, which are far from being independent factors. Variations in any of these two properties may depend on variations in a combination of several more underlying factors. Therefore, it is hard to know what actions the operators should take to avoid running off spec. So far, the main development in the concept with dewatering and length to assist the operators have been firstly, to get time trends of these variables on a DCS screen instead of on a piece of paper in the control room, and secondly to get the readings more frequently with on-line analysers. During the same period, there have been an immense development of refiner concepts, fractionation, process design, modelling, use of raw material, fibre characterization, and new products. By putting more attention to reality and describing mechanical pulp as a heterogeneous material, which the mechanical pulps truly are, we hope to be able to get a more profound understanding how wood particles are developed along the process all the way to product. We also hope to give the operators in the mechanical pulping plant a more realistic description of the material they are supposed to deliver to the paper and board makers in order to facilitate their possibilities to produce a more uniform product quality at minimum cost. The aim of our presentation is to share some of our insights and reflections how to describe the heterogeneous nature of mechanical pulps to the mill operators.

We have applied factor analysis on particle level based on measurements in an optical analyser of fibre diameter, fibre wall thickness, fibre length, and fibre fibrillation. Examples will be presented of how the raw material and the process have set characteristic fingerprints in terms of the distribution of an independent common bonding factor on particle level. It is fascinating to see how much that may be hidden behind averages, c.f. Rosling et al. (2018) who warn against comparing averages, which often obstruct a more profound understanding of a subject. In our presentation, we intend also to discuss how a description of the heterogeneity of the material may be used to get measures of energy efficiency of the process, separation efficiency of fractionation equipment, and how to link fibre characteristics to properties of products. Some reflections will also be shared on what we think is further required to get a more realistic description of the heterogeneous material we call mechanical pulp. Reference: Rosling H., Rosling Rönnlund A., Rosling O., (2018), ”Factfulness”, Natur & Kultur, ISBN 978-91-27-14994-6

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