Honghi Tran, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
Ontario, Canada

Honghi Tran is the Frank Dottori Professor of Pulp and Paper Engineering at the University of Toronto in Canada, where he has been a researcher and professor since 1990. He also serves as the Director of the University’s Pulp and Paper Centre, acting as a conduit between university research and industry needs, facilitating 55 industrial partners and over 140 university-company partnerships, both national and international.

After a highly productive and award-studded career, Honghi recently announced his retirement, effective July 2019.

Born in Ninh Hoa, Khanh Hoa, Vietnam, Honghi received his B.Sc. and M.Eng in ceramic engineering from Shizuoka University in Japan and doctorate in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto. Early in his career, Honghi worked as a summer student for a refractory company and a cement company, and as a process engineer for a glass company in Japan, which he credits as helping him greatly with dealing with issues related to high temperature reactions in the kraft chemical recovery process.

Honghi has published over 300 conference, peer-reviewed journal papers, book chapters and patents, ranging from recovery boilers, causticizing plants and lime kilns to biomass combustion and mill waste disposal and utilization, and has received numerous Best Paper recognitions. His contributions and body of work are a testament to the importance he places on scientific publishing for various industry shareholders, as well as development of new ideas for innovations and inventions.

In recognition of his industry research and dedication, Honghi was awarded TAPPI’s highest honor, the Gunnar Nicholson Gold Medal Award in 2017. He was also inducted into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame the same year.

Named a TAPPI Fellow in 2000, he is also a winner of TAPPI’s Engineering Technical Award and Beloit Prize, as well as the TAPPI Research & Development Technical Award and the William H. Aiken Prize. Outside of TAPPI, he has received the John S. Bates Gold Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada (PAPTAC), where he has also been a member and heavily involved since 1980. Honghi is one of the first Fellows named by PAPTAC and is also a Canadian Academy of Engineering Fellow. He is also a certified professional engineer of Ontario. 

Q.  What prompted you to join TAPPI?   

A.  I joined TAPPI in 1980 as an energetic, young student looking for a way to attend TAPPI conferences at the student rate.

Q.  What TAPPI activities have you been involved in and what resources have you used?

A.  I have served as a member of the TAPPI Energy, Recovery and Recaust Committee (formerly Steam & Power Committee) since 1989 and been involved with the Kraft Recovery Operations Course since its initiation in 1986, including as Chair. The course helped train about nearly 4000 people mainly from paper industry and its suppliers.

I’ve also participated in the International Chemical Recovery Conference planning since 1989, holding the Chair position in 1998 and 1995, and have reviewed numerous papers in TAPPI Journal, JPPS, J-FOR and other scientific journals.

Q.  How has your TAPPI membership benefited you and/or your career? 

A.  My work with TAPPI has benefitted me tremendously in my career. I would not be in the position that I am today or able to establish the connection I have within the industry without TAPPI.

Q.  Do you have any personal hobbies or volunteer activities?

A.  I’m a rather boring guy with all work and no fun, but I do enjoy and babysitting my grandchildren and gardening and wildlife photography when I have spare time.

Q.  What do you believe have been the most significant contributions/breakthroughs in areas of our industry? 

I think the most significant contributions/breakthroughs in our industry were the accidental discovery of kraft recovery process and the invention of the Tomlinson recovery boiler. Although the kraft pulp process was introduced in North America in 1907, it was not widely adopted until the invention of the recovery boiler by George H. Tomlinson in the early 1930s which enabled the efficient recovery of heat and pulping chemicals. The ability of the kraft process to handle almost all species of softwood and hardwood, the high strength of the resulting pulp, and the favorable economics due to its high chemical recovery efficiency gave the kraft process an advantage over all other processes. For each ton of pulp produced, kraft mills generate 10 tons of highly polluted spend liquor that need to be concentrated and burned in the recovery boiler. Although many improvements have been made to Tomlinson’s initial design over the years, many of its basic concepts remain unchanged in modern recovery boilers.

Q.  Please provide a closing sentiment on what TAPPI membership has meant to you both personally and professionally, including relationships developed through attendance at conferences, courses and classes, and/or participation and volunteer activities on Divisions and Committees.  Also, please provide any reason(s) why you recommend membership to others.  

I have benefited greatly being involved in various TAPPI activities. Attending TAPPI conferences provided me great opportunities to know what was happening, not only in my own areas but also the industry at large.

Participating in publishing in TAPPI Journal and other pulp and paper related journals provides researchers with a sense of belonging in our industry, and an excellent opportunity to promote their work. Mill engineers and technical staff, for example, can gain fundamental knowledge and new ideas so they can better understand and solve problems. Equipment suppliers can make use of the research findings to improve their product efficiency and performance. Governments and regulatory agencies can use research to develop more scientifically sound guidelines and policies, which in turn, could make it easier for the industry to comply.

Participating in TAPPI activities also allows academia, researchers and industry personnel to exchange findings, and to document information, data and knowledge they obtained in a systematical way for future generations.