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Release date:
Nov. 30, 2001
Contact: Deb Hammacher, Associate Director, 404-727-0644, or

Research leads to cleaner paper processing

The messy process of paper production could be cleaned up as a result of on-going research into better oxidation processes. Emory's Goodrich C. White Professor of Chemistry Craig Hill and his research group have lead the effort to develop a pollution-free method of converting wood pulp to paper.

The process uses oxygen instead of chlorine as the whitener and water as the solvent, thus generating only carbon dioxide and water as byproducts instead of chlorinated chemical pollutants. Hill's group, part of a "green chemistry" movement to develop chemical processes that mimic nature, published their most recent findings in the Nov. 8 issue of the journal Nature.

This bleaching/conversion approach mimics nature with the use of inorganic mineral cluster compounds called polyoxometalates (POMs) to break down and whiten the wood pulp. POMs are used to break the pulp into lignin--which imparts the color, texture and other properties to trees--and cellulose, which gives trees strength and is the basis for most paper products. The partially oxidized and degraded lignin fragments and POMs that are filtered off to leave the white cellulose for paper production are then treated with air at high temperatures and pressure to turn the POM back into its original form and convert the waste products into carbon dioxide and water.

Hill's research group is part of a multinational effort in collaboration with chemists and engineers at several U.S. firms and an international consortium of eight companies. Hill is joined by co-inventor Ira Weinstock of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory and Rajai Atalla of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in leading these efforts. Hill and Weinstock currently hold 10 patents for their catalytic air-based process that can replace the environmentally damaging sulfur and chlorine-based technology used worldwide. To date, research for this project has received about $5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and private industry.

Nature article.

Hill's research page:



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