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FPInnovationís Trevor Stuthridge on bringing nanotech to market

As executive vice president at FPInnovations, Trevor Stuthridge oversees the organization’s research, business development, and strategy delivery. He is a board member for the Institute of Forest Biosciences, Innoventures Canada, and holds adjunct professorships at the University of British Columbia and University of Toronto. FPInnovations was created as Canada’s forest sector innovation hub in 2007 through the merger of three leading forest sector research institutes: FERIC, Forintek and Paprican.

Next month, Stuthridge will also be a keynote speaker at TAPPI Nano 2017. TAPPI’s International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials provides a unique forum combining an exceptional technical program with networking opportunities for participants working in research, development, and deployment of renewable nanomaterials.

Trevor Stuthridge, FPInnovations

Stuthridge was interviewed for TAPPI by Jack Miller, founder and principal consultant, Market-Intell LLC, and the author of Nanocellulose: Technology Applications and Markets, published by RISI in 2014. (A shorter version of this interview also appeared in the March/April issue of Paper360° magazine.)

TAPPI: Can you tell us a little bit about FPInnovations’ history with nanocellulose?

Stuthridge: FPInnovations is a not-for-profit world leader in forest products research across the entire value chain. It specializes in the creation and deployment of scientific solutions in support of the Canadian forest sector’s global competitiveness and responds to the priority needs of its industry members and government partners.

FPInnovations has a long history of innovation in the field of cellulose nanocrystals, or CNC, where we have maintained a world-leading research capacity and track record in commercialization. We hold an extensive patent portfolio regarding CNC production, modification and end-use application. In addition, we have invested significant resources in the broader area of advanced cellulosic materials, including nano-fibrils and cellulose filaments.

How does a non-profit membership organization like FPInnovations commercialize new technologies?

As a member-driven organization, our focus is to do innovative research that will facilitate business development and commercialization of new technologies like CNC and cellulose filaments by our industry stakeholders, rather than deploying them. Commercialization of these technologies is a complex process with many moving parts.

For us, it all starts in the laboratory. Once we have delivered successful laboratory results and secured the intellectual property, we are able to begin the first steps of scaling-up to ensure we reproduce what we found in the lab, gather the data necessary to calculate and de-risk the value proposition, and confirm the suite of applications best addressed by the material. As the scale-up continues and challenges are resolved we eventually get to a pilot- and demonstration-scale plant phase, which requires significant capital investment. It is important to scale this stage to a size where sufficient materials are generated for in-market and product performance testing.

We feel it is critical to engage with industry as early on as possible in this process. Potential manufacturers and end-users understand market needs and can help us home in on the characteristics of any given product that they desire. In parallel, we must also ensure we are aligned to any codes and standards relevant to the product or, in the case of an entirely new product line, work with regulators to begin defining those standards. This structured approach increases the chances of developing a commercially-viable technology or product.

For example, our first commercial venture in CNC was CelluForce, which is a 50/50 joint venture with Domtar, an FPInnovations member. CelluForce was created to commercialize cellulose nanocrystals, trademarked as CelluForce NCC. This has been a critical learning experience for FPInnovations and our approach to innovation deployment. We are certainly seeing positive results from that joint venture today.

Do you foresee more joint ventures like CelluForce?

Celluforce was a critical step to ensuring an entirely novel material platform was delivered to the market. However, the capital cost of scale-up is likely to be too great for a non-profit organization, such as ours, to do frequently. Now, the trend at FPInnovations is more towards licensing new technology and creating concurrent R&D partnerships, rather than scaling-up ourselves; something we are doing with cellulose filaments.

Can you tell us a bit more about your talk at TAPPI NANO in Montreal in June?

TAPPI Nano Conference and Division

TAPPI’s 2017 International Conference on Nanotechnology conference will be held June 5-8, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Montreal in Montreal, QC. For program information, registration, and more, visit conference.tappinano.org

The conference is planned and programmed by the TAPPI International Nanotechnology Division (tappinano.org.) The group’s mission is to serve as the leading global forum for the community of individuals, organizations and institutions seeking to collectively advance the use of nanotechnology within the forest products industry, and support the development, production and use of industry renewable or sustainable nanomaterials for all industries. As students and professionals around the world, members of TAPPI's International Nanotechnology Division strive to advance the responsible use and production of renewable and sustainable nanomaterials.

It’s a big investment to go from lab-scale to pilot-scale to commercial-scale, and we try to minimize the risks along this pathway. The things I mentioned above are part of that—optimizing production, creating and protecting intellectual property, developing applications and partners in the application space. I’ll be focusing on the formal development process that we use to support this, including some of the innovation management tools we use to identify new concepts, prioritize innovation investment and direct our research and its deployment.

I’ll provide some application examples, including those that have future-proofed our traditional industries. For example, one of our Canadian mills was able to use these advanced fiber materials to improve the strength and customer satisfaction of one of its product lines, allowing them to run the production line with fewer shut-downs and meet new performance levels for their market product. This combination of factors has retained their competitiveness, extended the life of the mill and, arguably, saved 200 to 400 jobs.

That’s a great story. Anything else you want Ahead of the Curve readers to know?

We live in a highly dynamic world market for these advanced nano-biomaterials. Creating an opportunity pipeline, building and maintaining leading edge research capabilities, and embracing new approaches to innovation delivery are critical contributions that FPInnovations can make to ensure our North American sector is at the forefront of this revolution.

In this context, I very much look forward to learning more at TAPPI NANO about what our industry partners and research colleagues are doing to ensure we collectively turn this revolution into reality—and exploring ways to ensure we help facilitate their success.

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