Pandemic doesn’t slow down new NRRIer in new product development.
Just two months on the job and Cally Hunt, Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) process engineer, is already immersed in a very NRRI mission-driven project – developing a new product that she believes may lead to increased use of underutilized forest resources and create jobs.
Putting her expertise in biomass conversion and processing to work in the Duluth Lab, Hunt is working with a client to create fire logs and starters that meet industry performance specifications, while using environmentally friendly ingredients and additives.
With a fresh bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from UMD, Hunt credits an internship at Sappi’s Cloquet pulp and paper mill with providing excellent background knowledge. From wood chip cooking and bleaching to chemical recovery, working in the pulp mill has taught her a lot about wood and cellulose fiber – both the molecular makeup and how it reacts to different conditions. And the experience of working in an industrial facility has been “invaluable when learning quickly on my feet at NRRI’s Coleraine pilot plant,” she said.
After the lab studies determine the appropriate mixture and compaction regime, the fire log and fire starter project will move to NRRI’s Coleraine facility. There, large-scale densification equipment will further verify lab findings and lower the risk for the client as they move forward with commercial production.
“Being able to work with the team at the Coleraine facility to scale up the project has made this project extra interesting for me,” said Hunt. “Successfully producing a product at the benchtop and pilot plant scales is really exciting and motivating.”
Because this project involves intellectual property, Hunt and the rest of the team rely heavily on NRRI Business Development and IP Manager Tim White for guidance.
“He understands the value of the research and work conducted by NRRI researchers,” Hunt said. “Tim also helps with communication and project updates between researchers and their clients.”
New virus, new job
Starting her new job at NRRI during a pandemic has not been ideal, but Hunt is learning how to meet and get to know her new colleagues through a computer screen. But it also impacts her off-work life – from hiking to grocery shopping.
“But on the bright side, with the extra time spent at home, my husband and I have been able to complete a few house projects over the past several months,” she added.
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