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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 4

I Management Of Native Forests

II Plantations-high Productivity Resources

III Protecting The Resource

IV Harvesting The Resource

V Solid Wood And Its Processing

VI Minor Forest Products

VII Reconstituted Wood Products

VIII Pulp And Paper
i Early eucalypt pulping research and development
ii Eucalypt pulp production begins
iii Early commercial operation
iv The beginnings of pulp production from plantation pine
v Technological development and economic growth
vi 1975 and beyond

IX Export Woodchips

X Future Directions

XI Acknowledgements



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Early eucalypt pulping research and development

The first reported pulping of eucalypts was in Portugal in 1906, when some experimental sulphite pulp was made from young Tasmanian blue gum plantations established there and this led to commercial pulping by 1919. At that time there were four pulping processes in use overseas -mechanical pulping, in which the wood fibres were separated by grinding (groundwood), and sulphite, soda and kraft pulping, in which the fibre separation was achieved by dissolving the inter-fibre bonding material (lignin) using respectively hot calcium bisulphite, sodium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide/sodium sulphide solutions under pressure. Mechanical, sulphite and kraft* pulping were by far the most common processes and the abundant Northern Hemisphere softwoods the most common raw materials. Some pulps were produced from hardwoods by the soda process, particularly in USA, but because of the shorter fibre length of hardwoods (ca 1 mm) compared with softwoods (ca 3-5 mm) and the drastic pulping conditions often employed, their use was mainly as a minor component in products where strength was not of prime importance.

* Also known as sulphate pulping because of its use of sodium sulphate as make-up chemical.

In Australia early moves towards eucalypt pulping were taken by State governments anxious to exploit their natural resources. Tasmania engaged an expert from USA in 1914 to report on the pulping suitability of local woods and in 1917 Victoria sent samples to Norway for evaluation. Discouraging reports were received by both. More fruitful, however, was the approach taken in Western Australia, where Lane Poole, the Conservator of Forests, after learning in 1917 from a French visitor of the encouraging results being obtained from young plantation eucalypts in the Mediterranean area, convinced I. H. Boas, Lecturer in Chemistry at the Perth Technical School, to investigate the pulping potential of young karri. Lane Poole saw a possible pulping project as a way of economically justifying the cost of the regeneration thinning he believed to be necessary to restore high productivity to the heavily exploited karri and jarrah forests. Together with L. R. Benjamin, Boas was soon able to demonstrate in the laboratory that a reasonable soda pulp could by made from young karri if appropriate conditions were used.

In 1919 Boas and Benjamin joined the newly-established Institute of Science and Industry and set up Australia's first forest products laboratory in Perth. With financial help from the other States they extended the pulping investigations to a wider range of eucalypt species and to sulphite as well as soda pulping and installed a pilot scale soda pulping plant in the paper mill at Fyansford, Vic. where commercial trials were successfully carried out in 1921. In the same year a similar trial was made at the Botany, NSW paper mill using soda pulp from a pilot plant set up at the State Timber Yard in Sydney following encouraging reports from USA on eucalypt woods sent there by the NSW Government for pulping evaluation.

Commercial interest was stimulated by the work of Boas and Benjamin and in 1925 Amalgamated Zinc (De Bavay's) Ltd. and an associated industrialist, Gerald Mussen, arranged for wood from north-west Tasmania to be tested in Holland for the manufacture of newsprint containing a high percentage of eucalypt sulphite pulp. A product was made under commercial conditions but its quality was unsuitable and its cost high. Nevertheless Amalgamated Zinc was sufficiently confident of ultimate success to establish a subsidiary company, Tasmanian Paper Pty. Ltd., to carry out a pilot plant study to develop a viable project. Benjamin left CSIR's Pulp and Paper Section (as it was then called) to become Technical Superintendent of the plant, which began operation at Kermandie, Tas. in 1928 with facilities for sulphite and ground-wood pulping as well as a small paper machine. It operated until 1930, during which time it was established -and confirmed by a trial at APM's Fairfield mill -that newsprint could be produced from mixtures of eucalypt groundwood and sulphite pulp. The latter was made from young swamp gum (E. regnans) of which there was only limited availability. Commercial production would therefore have also required the use of mature wood, which was much more difficult to process by sulphite pulping. Amalgamated Zinc nevertheless decided to form an operating company and was on the point of floating this when the New York Stock Exchange crash occurred and the project was deferred.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Amalgamated Zinc (De Bavay's) Ltd; Australian Pulp and Paper Mills (A.P.P.M.); Broken Hill South Ltd; Consolidated Zinc Pty Ltd; CSIRO Pulp and Paper Section; Herald; Institute of Science and Industry; North Broken Hill Ltd; Papermakers Pty Ltd; Sydney Morning Herald; Tasmanian Paper Pty Ltd

People in Bright Sparcs - Benjamin, L. R.; Boas, I. H.; Mussen, Gerald

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 233 - 234, Online Edition 2000
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