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Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report

October 2013

Annual Report: October 2013

Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report October 2013


Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report: October 2013


A note from the director

A note from the director 


A new fine art paper introduced to market


It’s my pleasure to invite you to browse through this, WIST’s third annual report. Once again, we have had a full and action-packed year. We began by organizing Focal Point: Capitalizing on Sustainable Technology and were delighted to host speakers from some of Wisconsin’s premier businesses that are applying principles of sustainable technology to enhance and differentiate their companies.

WIST Advisory Board expands its representation 8 Grants boost research at WIST 


WIST Laboratory Services 


Student impact 


Focal Point tradition continues


WIST Education 


WIST Research 


Conferences and trade shows 




WIST Staff 


Research, laboratory services and education provided by the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST) help businesses and organizations meet their goals in ways that make more sustainable use of natural resources. Technology and ideas developed by WIST and its partners will spur economic growth in Wisconsin and the region and help preserve a healthy environment for future generations. WIST is an institute within the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. It is a multidisciplinary institute powered by the energy and expertise of faculty, staff and students across the UW-Stevens Point campus. Major funding for WIST operations has been provided by the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


Paul Fowler Executive Director

We have continued to advance our homegrown cellulose to sugar conversion technology including securing financial support from a pulp and paper mill seeking to diversify its mill operation. Aside from that, we have garnered interest in the technology from as far afield as Thailand. The cellulose to sugar platform is the first critical step in our route to the synthesis of biobased, renewable isoprene, the building block of jet fuel and natural rubber. Currently, we are participating in an NSF STTR grant with C5.6 Technologies of Middleton, WI to advance the biological production of isoprene using a combination of both parties’ capabilities. Amongst a number of staff additions this year, we have secured new leadership in WIST’s laboratory services division. At the beginning of May, John Baldus joined us from Wisconsin’s State Energy Office to continue to grow our relationships with the business community. Year on year, private sector expenditure on laboratory services has almost doubled and these funds are being re-invested in critical infrastructure and equipment enabling us to offer a first-rate student experience and to support maintenance and repair. Also this year, in collaboration with the College of Natural Resources’ Soils and Waste Discipline, we launched a new compostability testing service for coated paper and biodegradable plastics in response to growing commercial demand for these analyses. This is the only university-based testing capability in Wisconsin. Finally, in collaboration with the College of Natural Resources’ Paper Science & Engineering Department and the College of Fine Arts and Communication’s Department of Art and Design, we introduced to printmakers and artists a new fine art paper, RiverPoint. Since a “soft” launch in March 2013, we have shipped paper to customers in fifteen States. Our goal is to work with students and other stakeholders to take the paper to a much wider audience in the next twelve months. This is just a snapshot of our 2012–2013 year in WIST. There is more to discover in this report, as well as online at As always, if you would like further information or wish to work with or support the goals of WIST, then please do not hesitate to contact me at


Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report: October 2013

A new fine art paper introduced to market Collaborative effort creates high-quality and economical paper Visual arts students in the university’s Department of Art & Design require a special art paper to handle the inks and processes they use, and the art paper is expensive. But thanks to some unique assets at UW-Stevens Point, and an artful collaboration, students and faculty are now using a high-quality yet economical paper made right on campus. UW-Stevens Point is home to the fastest student-run pilot paper plant in the country, used for classes in the Department of Paper Science & Engineering. The Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology also uses the machine for paper development and production runs for commercial customers through its laboratory services division. The pilot machine is ideal for materials studies and small developmental runs. Over the past two years, WIST, Art & Design, and PS&E worked together to develop an economical, archival art paper. The paper had to be versatile enough for use in a range of printmaking and drawing applications. Under direction of WIST and PS&E faculty, students made a series of trial runs on the pilot paper machine. Working on a real-world problem provided a great learning opportunity for the students. By May 2012, they had produced a 100 percent cotton paper with the qualities needed. Since then, students and faculty in visual arts have used the paper in all sorts of projects and have been very happy with its performance. In fact, the collaboration has been so successful we decided to introduce the paper to the market. The Design Center in the Department of Art & Design coined the name, RiverPoint art paper, and put together marketing packets for the new paper. The paper made its debut in March at Print:MKE, a


Clockwise from above left: Stephen Chastain, a paper science & engineering student helps make a run of RiverPoint art paper on the UW-Stevens Point pilot paper machine; UW-Stevens Point students Rachel Strelow and Tarin Baldauf, in RiverPoint aprons, talk to a potential customer at a major print show in Milwaukee, where the paper made its debut; materials created by the Design Center in the College of Fine Arts and Communications tell the RiverPoint story. Bradley Trotter, a student in Art & Design prepares to make a print on RiverPoint art paper in the design studio in the Noel Fine Arts Center.

graphics conference in Milwaukee, where PS&E and visual arts students hosted a trade-show booth and gave away samples of RiverPoint. Response from attendees was very positive. So far, WIST has shipped RiverPoint paper to customers in 15 states. Sales of the paper will defray production costs so WIST will be able to supply the paper to the UW-Stevens Point art & design faculty for free and additional sales will support ongoing research and development work at WIST.


Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report: October 2013

WIST Advisory Board expands its representation

WIST has added new voices to its advisory board from a key Wisconsin agricultural sector and the UW System, and appointed a new member from the waste management/recycling sector. Kelly Rooney, of Advanced Disposal, an inaugural board member, relocated with a new position in that company and resigned from the board. She is replaced by Meleesa Johnson.

The new board members join current board members Ed Buehler, vice president for NewPage's Specialty Papers; Tad Campana, vice president of operations for Services Plus, Inc.; Lori Dehlinger, executive director of the Portage County Business Council; Barb

LaMue, regional account manager for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation in Green Bay; H. Tony Hartmann, chief executive officer of Great Lakes Ag Energy; Dave Mead, chief executive officer of C5.6 Technologies; Leon Ostrowski, founder and coordinator of Central Wisconsin Business Angels; Fran Podvin, chairman of the board of Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., and head of Podvin Law Firm; Troy Runge, assistant professor in the Biological Systems Engineering Department at UW-Madison; Tom Sweeney, Preconstruction at J.H. Findorff and Son; and Theodore H. Wegner, assistant director of the United States (U.S.) Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory.

New Advisory Board Members David A. Brukardt is Associate Vice President for Economic Development for the University of Wisconsin System. He leads the UW System Office of Economic Development, developed in 2012 to connect UW faculty and staff talent, innovative spirit, and entrepreneurial energy with Wisconsin businesses in order to foster job growth and to build better communities. Brukardt serves in a joint appointment with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). In 2013, Brukardt was appointed to the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment.

Currently, Johnson is president of Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin (AROW), serves as treasurer for the Wisconsin Counties Solid Waste Management Association (WCSWMA) and is on the board of the Solid Waste Association of North America-Badger Chapter (SWANA). She is also on the board of directors for Portage County Youth Soccer and the SPASH Girls Soccer Booster Club. Meleesa spends her free time watching her granddaughter play soccer, reading, cooking and walking her two dogs. She is an avid UWSP Pointers basketball fan.

Duane Maatz

A 1982 graduate of North Dakota State University, Duane has a B.S. degree in Agricultural Education with a minor in Composite Science. He served as a Graduate Research Assistant in the Agricultural Education Department at NDSU from 1982-1983. He worked as an Agricultural Education Instructor in Petersburg, ND from 1983-1986, and in Larimore, ND from 1986-1992. Prior to his position with the WPVGA, Duane served as the President of the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Duane has been married to his wife Patty for 26 years and lives in Wausau. They have two sons, Austin and Landon, and a daughter, Tarah. Richard Pavelski is CEO and owner of Heartland Farms, Inc., and Heartland Agricultural Marketing, LLC, and has ownership of and holds offices in a number of other businesses including Horizon Properties, LLC, and Adventure 212. He also serves as a director and is a shareholder in a number of businesses including River Cities Bank and Wound Zoom, LLC. He has held more than a dozen organization offices in the past including President and Director, Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association; Director, national Potato Council; and President of Wisconsin Agribusiness Council.

He has more than 20 years of public affairs experience with global organizations and entrepreneurial start-ups in Wisconsin and in Washington State. Most recently, he served as Executive Vice President of Investor and Corporate Relations for Sterling Financial Corporation in Spokane, Wash. While in the Pacific Northwest, he was chair of the Association of Washington Business (AWB), the state’s chamber of commerce. He also served three terms on the board of the Spokane International Airport, for which he led business development missions to Japan, South Korea, and China.

David Brukardt

Brukardt earned his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Maryland and his undergraduate degree from Marquette University. He is a graduate from the ABA National Banking School in Fairfield, Conn., and is a fourth-generation Wisconsin native. Meleesa Johnson has more than 10 years of advanced leadership in the solid waste resource recovery and recycling industry. She is the director of solid waste management for Marathon County, operating solid waste resource programming and facilities for central and north-central Wisconsin. Recently, she held an adjunct faculty position with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, teaching waste resource management.

Meleesa Johnson


Meleesa graduated, with distinction and honors, from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with a B.S. in Environmental Policy & Planning. She is a Morris K Udall Congressional Scholar for Excellence in National Environmental Policy and a two-time Wisconsin Women in Government Scholar. (continued next page)

Duane Maatz is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association. He represents potato growers throughout Wisconsin while working to increase the Association’s political involvement and influence by maintaining positive relationships on state and federal legislation, playing instrumental roles on issues that affect members such as disaster, risk management, international trade regulations, and agricultural policy. Duane leads a potato and vegetable trade association with over 350 members and an annual budget of approximately $1.5 million. He is responsible for developing and maintaining an aggressive grower relations program and building consensus in the areas of research, marketing, education and governmental relations. He manages an experienced staff of five full-time employees.

Richard Pavelski

Pavelski joined the family farming operation in 1967, a member of the fourth generation on a farm that was settled in 1873 by his Great Grandfather August after emigrating from Poland.

In 1979 Pavelski started an independent agricultural fertilizer and chemical sales and application business, while continuing to own a 50 percent interest in the family farm operation. Beginning in 1986 the company partnered with NASA to work on satellite mapping and variable rate fertilizer and chemical application and had the first variable rate application equipment in Wisconsin. That technology is just now, 25 years later, being more broadly adopted. The fertilizer and chemical operation grew to $21 million in sales and was sold to Growmark in 1990. The farm operation has grown from 550 acres in 1967 when Pavelski joined the farm, to 18,000 acres, and over $50 million in annual sales currently. The farm works closely with the University Agricultural Research Station at Hancock, WI. The farm is also home to the Frito-Lay Global Potato Storage Research Facility, a facility designed by Pavelski to mimic real world, commercially sized potato storage conditions. Pavelski has consulted on potato production and storage projects in Scotland, UK, Poland, and Russia. He has partnered with nine other Wisconsin-based investors and led a frozen potato products manufacturing business in Scotland from 1994 to 2001. He partnered with a Michigan-based potato grower to start, own and operate a 7,000 acre potato farm in Mexico from 1997 to 2003. 9

Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report: October 2013

Grants boost research at WIST


inning federal research grants is a hyper-competitive activity today, with funding cutbacks at many levels narrowing the amount of money available and widening the field of applicants. WIST submitted nine applications in the past year, most in partnership with one or more additional institutions or private businesses, and was successful on three.

A Higher Education Challenge Grant of $64,635 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture will fund development of an affordable Bioenergy and Bioproducts Laboratory-based Education. WIST Director of Research Eric Singsaas and UW-Madison Assistant Professor in biological systems engineering Troy Runge, along with UW-Platteville professor Tim Zauche and associate professor Chris Baxter, are working to develop four laboratory exercises. The laboratory exercises will be part of a comprehensive bioenergy laboratory curriculum. UWSP will develop detailed laboratory procedures for labs that investigate biomass composition, biomass pyrolysis, biomass pre-treatment for saccharification, and fermentation.

Writing a grant proposal can be an arduous process, and completing the Dr. Shona Duncan, WIST research associate, works in the "glove box," in the WIST lab. The device required paperwork that allows manipulation of materials in a separate environment, without risk of contamination. goes with it even more Fowler notes that there are benefits even if grant apdaunting. Each agency has a set of rules and requireplications are not successful. Working with potential ments, which can be quite involved. The request for partners on grant proposals opens a dialogue and proposals in a U.S. Department of Agriculture proprovides an opportunity to learn about capabilities gram – basically, the grant parameters and applicaand objectives. That can lead to new collaborations tion instructions – ran to 65 pages. outside of the grant arena. Paul Fowler, WIST executive director, said that while In the past year, WIST and partners have won the folgrant writing does require valuable staff time, the eflowing grants: fort is worth it in the long run. “These federal grants fund research that is cuttingedge, often beyond what private investors are willing to risk,” Fowler said. “But the research, if successful, leads to technology transfer to industry and typically further funding from private industry to commercialize the work.” For example, WIST biofuels research funded by the Department of Defense developed patented intellectual property, which WIST is now working to commercialize. Already the patented process for biomass separation has led to contracted research and development work with one paper mill, and discussions with several other businesses are underway (see story on page 19).


gas emissions. The isoprene research is being funded by the NSF through its Small Business Technology Transfer Program. The program promotes innovation in the private sector by linking businesses with university researchers. Work on the project will take place at C5.6 and UW-Stevens Point laboratories.

A $224,292 National Science Foundation grant awarded in June 2013 is funding ongoing biofuels research at WIST, in partnership with Middleton, Wis., biotech company C5.6 Technologies. The grant will allow the research partners to continue work on developing bacteria that will ferment sugar into isoprene. This high-energy molecule can be used to make fuel for jets and other uses. Besides its use in fuel, isoprene is also a valuable industrial chemical, used in making latex, rubber, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Isoprene is mainly produced from petroleum sources. Producing it from sugar would help meet U.S. goals for renewable energy production and reduction of greenhouse

A National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant of $26,000, will help research partners develop a new method to effectively address endof-life management of bioplastics, specifically polylactic acid (PLA). WIST is working with Interfacial Solutions of River Falls, WI, on the project. PLA is the industry leading bioplastic as it is compostable and made from corn. However, many PLA-based products manufactured today are land filled or incinerated at their end of life. Despite being compostable, industrial composting infrastructure for PLA and other bioplastics in the United States is very limited. Under this work, a commercial scale reactive extrusion process will be developed and optimized for the robust production of hyperbranched PLA polymers from scrap PLA. Phase I research verified that hyperbranching dramatically improves the melt strength and mechanical properties of scrap PLA. These benefits give hyperbranched PLA properties that meet or exceed those of virgin PLA. The process technology being developed will overcome the significant variability in scrap PLA feedstocks, allowing for production of resin with uniform product quality. The reactive extrusion process to impart hyperbranching is cost-effective and scalable. This process will enable a viable business to sell recycled PLA resin as a value-added material intended for durable goods applications. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is the development and commercialization of an important, novel, and cost effective way to meet the pressing need of making plastics more sustainable by adding value to the most broadly used bioplastic, PLA.


Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report: October 2013

WIST Laboratory Services Growth and change were hallmarks of WIST laboratory services in the past year. “We’re continuing to see essentially a doubling of services, year on year,” said Paul Fowler, WIST executive director. Reflecting that rapid growth, WIST made a number of staff changes in laboratory services in the past year.

Currently WIST is part of a working group that is updating standards for the disintegration element of the compostability protocol, specifically the ASTM WK34454 Compostability Disintegration test method.

The institute hired a full-time director for laboratory services. John Baldus, who came on board in May, is focusing on cementing relationships with current customers and working to develop new markets and new services targeted to meet industry needs. Baldus brings a background in private industry sales as well as in marketing development for the Wisconsin State Energy Office. Also new this year is Chris Szymonski, the paper machine and allied laboratories specialist. Szymonski serves the needs of both WIST and the Paper Science & Engineering Department at UWStevens Point.

Paper testing and analysis equipment is shown in one of the UW-Stevens Point labs.

Casey Konopacky, formerly interim laboratory services specialist for WIST, was appointed laboratory project specialist, where he works on projects such as the development and marketing of RiverPoint fine art paper. You can read short bios on these and all of the WIST staff at the back of this report.

Compostability WIST introduced a new compostability testing service for the market in November 2012. The service is aimed at companies in the compostable packaging industry, to help them develop such materials for the market. Testing the materials according to established, thirdparty standards will provide information that companies can use in their marketing claims. That is becoming more important as consumers demand environmentally friendly materials. WIST tests compostability to ASTM D6400 or D6868 standards. The testing protocol comprises a disintegration trial, seed germination trial and biodegradability trial. “We are one of only a handful of laboratories nationwide offering compostabil12

ity testing, and with our track record of providing timely, high-quality laboratory services and competitive pricing, this new service has great potential for WIST,” Fowler said. Already WIST has performed the test method on coated paper for a client and is in discussions with several companies for trials.

Dan Neckar, left, shoots digital video as Rob Michitsch, UW-Stevens Point assistant professor of soil and waste resources, describes the compostability testing protocol. Michitsch helped develop the protocol. WIST's compostability video is on YouTube at

WIST created a short video to explain its compostability testing service and made the video available on YouTube; the link is watch?v=Gs44i8ch-FU

Services for the paper industry Testing and analysis for the paper industry continues to form the core of WIST laboratory services. Pulp and bleaching trials: WIST performs pulping and bleaching on wood and non-wood biomass. One area of particular growth is in the pulping of nontraditional materials, including food processing byproducts and agricultural processing residual materials. Companies are exploring possibilities for unique products with sustainability attributes such as the re-use of waste materials. WIST has bench top equipment sized 50-360 grams and tank volume bleaching up to 100-liter volumes.

WIST laboratory personnel Justin Hall, above, and Casey Konopacky, left, prepare material for pulping trials with the institute's bench top equipment.

Specialty Paper: The UW-Stevens Point pilot paper machine, which WIST operates for developmental and small production runs, is an important asset. In the past year, the institute completed development of a fine art paper (see story on this unique university collaboration on page 6). WIST also made a specialty paper for a client, working with the client to create a paper that met specifications for a niche area. Baldus traveled to the client’s production plant along with other laboratory staff to Laboratory services continued next page


Annual Report: October 2013

Laboratory services, continued learn more about how the paper would be used and to gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics needed in the paper. “Specialty paper development is an area we are very interested in,” Baldus said. “Our pilot plant is really suited to this and we have an exceptional team in place to perform this work.”

Waste treatment

WIST developed this brochure in coordination with water resources faculty at UW-Stevens Point to highlight capabilities of the recently completed Waste Education Center.

A new area that WIST is exploring is in collaborative testing, analysis, training and education in waste water treatment. UW-Stevens Point recently completed construction of the Waste Education Center, which contains a working wastewater treatment plant with state-of-the-art technology, the same technology and processes used in municipal plants across the U.S. The facility is used in courses taught in soil and waste resources. The pilot plant is also suitable for training opportunities for municipal wastewater system operators, industrial wastewater system operators, engineers and environmental compliance personnel. In research and development, the plant could be used for trials to understand the biodegradability profile of compounds during treatment and for testing of treatment technology prototypes.

The UW-Stevens Point pilot paper machine, below, is for developmental and production runs, as well as for student course work in the university's paper science and engineering program and WIST professional education short courses.

Student impact On-the-job experience WIST employed 15 students in part-time work over the past year. The students worked on laboratory services projects including paper testing and compostability, and research projects including on PLA plastics recycling and the biofuels laboratory. Paul O'Neel, for example, collected and cleaned more than 400 pounds of PLA food service ware from various campus dining outlets to provide material for the National Science Foundation-supported research described elsewhere in this report.

Help with academics

WIST employed UW-Stevens Point graduate student Tracy Westbury, who assisted in development of the compostability testing protocol.

The institute supported senior projects in the Paper Science & Engineering Program both with a financial contribution and help from WIST staff. Executive Director Paul Fowler met with the seniors to discuss how the projects might fit with laboratory services provided by WIST and lead to commercial applications.

Hands-on papermaking experience

In one of the projects, seniors refurbished the current size press on the pilot paper machine at UWSP. The size press infuses a sheet of paper with additional treatment, a starch solution, to give it physical properties that it did not have before. At first, the size press did not perform well, resulting in uneven treatment depending on the type of paper. The goal for the students was to achieve better control of the starch solution for greater consistency and quality. The seniors experimented with several approaches to solve the problem.

PS&E student Lindsey Hoffman was one of several students who gained papermaking experience by helping with paper runs for RiverPoint art paper. She said the opportunity to work on the pilot paper machine on a real-world project enriched her education at UW-Stevens Point. “I get the working knowledge from the stock prep to when the paper gets on the reel, all the drive controls and how the machine is set up, to the chemicals that we use in this paper,” Hoffman said.

Fowler said the work with the senior projects is mutually beneficial: In addition to its use by students, the paper machine is used by WIST Laboratory Services to undertake raw material and/or chemical additive studies, equipment evaluation, grade development and production runs for commercial clients. Revenue from that work in turn maintains the machine, helping to make sure it continues to be available for student use.


Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Focal Point tradition continues In October, WIST hosted Focal Point 2012: Capitalizing on Sustainable Technology. This was the second annual Focal Point conference and it drew about 65 delegates to the UW-Stevens Point campus. Presenters addressed the conference theme of “capitalizing on sustainable technology” by detailing examples of sustainability that is improving profitability. The 2012 program featured presenters from 10 companies, ranging from long-time household products maker SC Johnson to more recent tech startups Virent and Lucigen. What all the companies had in common was a commitment to embrace new, sustainable technologies to improve their bottom line while protecting the environment. Participants gave Focal Point 2012 overwhelmingly positive ratings in evaluations turned in post-conference. The conference participants represented a wide swath of businesses as well as economic development agencies. Participants said the expertise of speakers was top-notch and that they appreciated hearing from people directly involved in business, who provided real examples. The theme for the October 22, 2013 conference is “frontiers in packaging.” The conference targets opportunities and challenges for the packaging and converting industries in the Midwest. The event will address manufacturing, converting, end-use, and regulatory concerns in plastics, corrugated carton board and specialty paper.

Annual Report: October 2013

WIST Education Biofuels minor underway at UW-Stevens Point

One of the first initiatives for WIST education was to develop an interdisciplinary biofuels minor at UW-Stevens Point. The goal was to provide students with specific knowledge of the scientific, engineering and environmental aspects of producing liquid fuels from biomass. Development of the curriculum and gaining approval for the minor took nearly two years, but the minor is officially on the books. Eric Singsaas, WIST director of research and UW-Stevens Point associate professor of biology, is teaching two courses for the minor in fall semester 2013. One is a laboratory class on biological conversions. “We’re studying all the different means of converting biomass into biofuels using biological means,” Singsaas said. “It’s either going to use an enzyme, or fermentation, or a microbe in some way.” They’ve toured an ethanol plant and two methane digestors, and done an experiment on anaerobic digestion in the lab. Singsaas is also teaching a lecture course this semester for the biofuels minor, called Plant Natural Products. Students learn how plants synthesize different molecules that could be used for biofuels, including cellulose, starch, oil, terpenoids and others. In the spring, Malek Alkasrawi, assistant professor in paper science and engineering, will teach a course in chemical conversion of biomass to biofuels.

WIST short courses

WIST has offered a number of short courses ranging from a half-day to two days in length, primarily designed for business professionals. The courses in each case are developed and taught by one or more industry experts and up to now each has been provided on campus at UW-Stevens Point. Several are “hands-on” courses that take advantage of the unique pilot paper


Eric Singsaas, WIST director of laboratory services and associate professor of biology at UW-Stevens Point, holds a jar of biodiesel produced in the university's biofuels laboratory. Students in the biofuels minor gain foundational knowledge in methods to produce liquid fuels from biomass.

plant and other laboratories here. But later this year we will stream our first webinar. “Safe Methods to Prevent Bacteria-Generated Gas Explosions in Pulp and Paper Mills” will be taught by Instructor Dave Vachavake, who worked in the pulp and paper industry for more than 20 years. He was a technical superintendent at the Tomahawk, WI, PCA mill when that mill experienced an explosion from bacteriagenerated gas. Vachavake has written about explosion-prevention methods for the paper industry publication Paper 360. WIST short courses offered range from hands-on courses on pulping and bleaching to sustainability-related courses on bioplastics and life cycle assessment to business seminars on board leadership.


Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report: October 2013

WIST Research

Commercialization and technology transfer

Eric Singsaas, WIST director of research, was invited to provide an update on the institute's isoprene research at an international exhibition and conference, the Tire Technology Expo, in Cologne, Germany in February.

WIST has received inquiries from around the world in the past year regarding its patented lignin-solvent biomass separation process. In one case, the inquiry led to contract research and laboratory work for a West Coast pulp mill.


Eric Singsaas, director of research, and Justin Hall, instrumentation specialist, traveled to Washington state to evaluate waste streams at Cosmo Specialty Fibers with a view to determining the feasibility of creating value from that waste, such as fermentable sugars to make biofuels or valuable industrial chemicals such as isoprene or bioplastics.

The Tire Technology Expo is in its thirteenth year and bills itself as "the world's most important international gathering of tire manufacturing experts." For WIST, the event provided an opportunity to connect with tire engineers and tire WIST research associate Dr. Shona Duncan works with fermentation equipment to evaluate isoprene production by bacterial strains the institute is developing with research partners. industry executives. The institute's isoprene research has been largely funded by US government agencies to this point, including the Department of Defense, but WIST is looking toward industry investment to commercialize its technology. Isoprene is an important chemical used in manufacturing tires and is currently derived mainly from petroleum. But the tire industry is increasingly looking toward new, renewable materials for manufacture. Singsaas's presentation was titled "Renewable Isoprene Production by Biochemical Processing." He described two major advances WIST has made in the last year.

"We've made photosynthetic microbes that produce 80 times more isoprene than any previously published photosynthetic isoprene process," Singsaas said. Commercial development of these processes will generate licensing revenue for the UW system and WIST, and will create opportunities for Wisconsin industries, such as paper and pulp mills, to develop bio-based materials that access new markets.

"One is the development of low-cost sugars that are converted into isoprene by our microbes," he said. "This process was covered in the patent that was issued to us in 2012.”

Lignin polymers

Current research is focused on working with a new bacterial strain that the researchers believe will provide better results than the E. Coli which they had been using. The second area is in advances in photosynthetic isoprene, where Singsaas has been working with research partners at UWOshkosh to develop algae that use light energy to convert carbon dioxide directly into isoprene.

“We’re helping them find the best process for their mill,” Singsaas said. “We did several analyses to find the most economical use of their residuals.”

Justin Hall, WIST instrumentation specialist, takes a sample at a pulp mill. WIST is performing contract research and laboratory analysis to help determine economic feasibility of using the mill's waste streams to produce cellulosic sugars.

Dr. Shona Duncan checks results on fermentation samples.

WIST’s patented biomass separation process produces high-purity lignin in addition to cellulose and hemicelluloses. WIST is working with several collaborators to test applications for lignin, which could offer a number of advantages for the plastics industry. Singsaas noted that as a renewable material, lig-

Lignin polymer blends are shown in test samples, above. On left, injectionmolded windshield ice scrapers of lignin-polyethylene composites of various ratios up to 50 percent lignin.

Research continued next page



Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology nin can displace petroleum-based products. Also, most bioplastics polymers are relatively expensive compared to petroleum products, but lignin may be produced at one-third the cost of other bioplastics. It could be blended with other bioplastics to reduce overall costs. Lignin by itself is quite brittle and so the research is focused on “compositing” lignin with other bioplastics. The brittleness of lignin is an asset in the right applications. “Lignin has the potential to improve the hardness and impact resistance of biobased plastics,” Singsaas said.

Annual Report: October 2013

Patent activity

Conferences and trade shows

A divisional patent was issued June 18, 2013 for “Lignin-Solvent Fuel and Method and Apparatus for Making Same.” DF Guay and EL Singsaas. U.S. patent number 8,465,559.

WIST personnel were on the road in the past year to share information about WIST initiatives and to make the connections needed nationally and internationally to continue to grow the institute.

A full patent application is under review for “Isoprene Production.” AE Wiberly and EL Singsaas.

A sampling of events attended includes: Eric Singsaas presented “Isoprene production from lignocellulosic feedstocks” at the Intelligent Tire Technology Symposium, Darmstadt, Germany, September 22, 2012. He presented “Renewable isoprene production by biochemical processing” at the Tire Technology Expo 2013 in Cologne, Germany, February 2013.

An application is under review for “Methods for Isoprene and Pinene Production in Cyanobacteria.” EL Singsaas, T Kallas, and M Nelson.

Recycling PLA plastic

Singsaas presented “Lignocellulosic biorefinery technology: implementation at a pulp mill,” at the Wisconsin Science and Technology Symposium in Superior, WI, July 23, 2013. At the same symposium, Paul Fowler presented on "WIST and its Contribution to Research, Economic Development and Innovation."

WIST partnered with Interfacial Solutions of River Falls, WI in a Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project to address the issue of end-of-life management of a family of bioplastics, namely polylactic acid (PLA). The project is funded by the National Science Foundation. This work was a prelude to the STTR Phase II grant work described on page 11 of this report.

Fowler moderated a panel discussion at BioForward's Bioscience Vision Summit 2013, titled "Industrial Biotechnology: Chemical Manufacture from Biomass Feedstocks," with panelists Eric Singsaas, Ali Manesh of American Science and Technology and Phil Brumm of C5.6 Technologies.

Although PLA is a compostable bioplastic, in practice a lack of widespread industrial composting infrastructure in the United States means this property of PLA isn't taken advantage of fully. Unfortunately, PLA is not typically recycled like many other plastics because of a significant loss of material properties during reprocessing of the plastic. Without widespread composting or recycling infrastructure, the majority of products today manufactured from PLA are disposed of after use and are destined for landfill.

In April 2013, WIST partnered with the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Centergy to promote Central Wisconsin's bioscience capability, at the BIO International Convention in Chicago. Fowler co-chaired the Biopolymers Symposium in the Field Museum, Chicago, June 11-12; and also moderated a session on sustainable feedstocks.

In this project, Interfacial Solutions developed a new process to recycle PLA that will improve its mechanical properties and processability, which would significantly enhance the value of scrap PLA. As part of the grant, Interfacial Solutions is working with both post-industrial and post-consumer PLA waste. Post-industrial PLA can be purchased on the market, but sources of post-consumer PLA are rare. That is where researchers at WIST came in. WIST provided post-consumer PLA collected on the UWSP campus from dining service outlets. 20

Justin Hall, WIST instrumentation specialist, helped host a booth at PaperCon 2013 along with IPS testing of Appleton, WI.

Justin Hall and John Baldus hosted exhibits at several trade shows to highlight WIST laboratory services. Events included PaperCon 2013 in Atlanta, GA in March and the TAPPI PEERS Conference in Green Bay, September 15-18, 2013.

UW-Stevens Point student Lizzy Lepinski sorts and cleans PLA from garbage collected as part of the Interfacial Solutions/ WIST SBIR project to study the mechanical recycling of biobased plastic dining service ware.


Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Annual Report: October 2013

Communications The institute’s website,, serves as the digital front door and a frequent first stop for people interested in WIST’s work. In addition to the monthly e-newsletter the institute has distributed for the past two years, a second monthly electronic publication called Scratch Sheet was launched this summer. John Baldus, formerly of the Wisconsin State Energy Office and now director of WIST laboratory services, had developed the Scratch Sheet and brought the concept with him to WIST. Subscription to either or both e-newsletters is available on the WIST website.

Fingertip access: It’s easy to keep up with the latest developments at WIST. Digital connections as close as your computer or smart phone include the WIST website and a host of social media sites. Website: wist

WIST initiatives and successes were featured in numerous digital and print publications in the past year. Locally, the Stevens Point Journal and sister Gannett publications in Wisconsin Rapids, Wausau and Marshfield covered various WIST activities, including the launch of RiverPoint fine art paper; WSAW TV in Wausau also aired a feature on the collaboration that developed RiverPoint fine art paper. Online publications picked up coverage of WIST news as well, providing national and international exposure. Paul Fowler was invited to write a commentary for Sustain Quarterly, a publication of the UW System; you can read it at sustainability/Newsletters/SUSTAIN%20SpringEd3Final.pdf Fowler, former graduate student and WIST employee Waneta Kratz, and Ron Tschida published an article in BioPlastics Magazine describing a PLA recycling project at UW-Stevens Point. In a nice connection to social media, Fowler was invited to be the "guest tweeter" for a week in April on a recently launched UW System account: @UWpowersMe. During fall semester 2012 an intern assisted with WIST communications work while gaining experience. Carly Cuene, then a senior in majoring in communications at UW-Stevens Point created display material and programs for Focal Point 2012, updated marketing materials and helped with news releases and other communications needs.


In addition to finding WIST on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, anyone can subscribe to the institute’s electronic newsletter, an “eblast” distributed monthly via email. An easy newsletter subscription sign-up form is on the WIST website home page.


Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

WIST Staff

Annual Report: October 2013

Research and Laboratory Services


Paul Fowler, WIST executive director, has a dozen years’ experience in contract research and development of new products and opportunities from biobased materials. At WIST, Fowler is networking with public- and private-sector organizations and companies to develop new sustainable technologies with commercial applications to benefit the economy and the environment. Before taking the helm at WIST in 2010, he was director of the Welsh Institute for Natural Resources, a financially self-supporting unit at Bangor University, in Wales, UK. Fowler has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and extensive knowledge of biobased, renewable materials and applications.

John Baldus is the director of laboratory services for WIST. Baldus most recently worked as a bioproduct sector specialist for the Wisconsin State Energy Office. He developed and managed grant and loan opportunities in areas of sustainable energy practices. He also worked on policy development to use organic solid waste for energy using anaerobic digestion. Baldus co-chaired a forum on anaerobic digestors at the 2012 US Biopolymers Symposium. At WIST, Baldus is working to strengthen ties with existing customers, build new markets for WIST services, and add services to meet industry needs.

John Baldus

Paul Fowler

Shona Duncan is a research associate at the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology. After receiving her doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Waikato in 2007, studying fungal diversity and cellulose degradation in the Ross Island historic huts, Antarctic Duncan has been involved in a project investigating fungal decay mechanisms and their potential use in the biofuels industry for feedstock pretreatment and hydrolysis of carbohydrates to glucose. While working at the University of Waikato, Duncan gained experience in running bench top and 600L fermenters. She will be using that knowledge and experience while at WIST to scale up the bench top fermentation of sugars to isoprene to pilot scale (100L) capabilities.

Angie Hauer, WIST development coordinator, coordinates daily office activities, supplies, and correspondence. She has a bachelor’s degree in resource management from UWSP and a master’s in outdoor recreation administration from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Shona Duncan Angie Hauer

Justin Hall is an instrumentation specialist at WIST. He provides analytical support for WIST research projects by maintaining and operating analytical instrumentation. Hall is experienced in ion chromatography, gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, and mass spectroscopy. In addition to research support Justin provides laboratory services for outside companies. He is a 2011 graduate of UWSP with a bachelor’s degree in water resources and a minor in chemistry.

Ron Tschida, WIST communications manager, handles public relations and outreach, institute publications and the WIST website. Before coming to UWSP in 2005, Tschida was city editor of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Bozeman, Mont. He has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Montana in Missoula.

Justin Hall Ron Tschida

Casey Konopacky is laboratory project specialist for WIST. He provides research, testing, analytical and paper machine services to industry and other clients. Konopacky graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout with a bachelor of science degree in manufacturing engineering. He gained previous work experience as an engineering consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce Division of Safety and Buildings and as a Lab Curator for the UW-Stout Physics Department.

Rebecca Vagts, WIST business manager, is responsible for the fiscal management of the WIST grants and contracts including developing budgets in grant narratives, budget review, account reconciliation, and fiscal reporting. Vagts has an MBA with a Global Emphasis and a BS in Business Management from Upper Iowa University.

Casey Konopacky

Rebecca Vagts



Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology

Eric Singsaas

Annual Report: October 2013

Eric Singsaas is the Director of Research at the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology. He applies his scientific training to research in biofuel and bioproduct production, focusing on developing microbial pathways to produce isoprene from biomass. Eric received his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1997 studying the production of isoprene from oak and kudzu leaves. He went on to investigate the impacts of increasing greenhouse gases on forest ecosystems in Free Air CO2 Enrichment experimental systems in North Carolina and Wisconsin. He has studied biological hydrocarbon production and plant-atmosphere gas exchange, working on scales ranging from genes to ecosystems. Eric is an associate professor of biology at UWSP and teaches introductory biology, tree and forest function, plant physiology, and seminars in climate change biology and plant-environment interactions. Chris Szymonski has more than 20 years of experience in process and project engineering at tissue and paper mills, and at personal-products manufacturing facilities. In addition, he has worked as a scientist, developing cellulose-based absorbent structures and composites for personal hygiene products; providing business support and conducting research projects in fields of adhesion, emulsions, spray-drying and fluidizedbed particle coating. Szymonski holds M.S. degrees in chemical engineering and in pulp and paper technology.

Chris Szymonski


At WIST, Szymonski is performing paper testing, analysis and development work, including operation of the pilot paper plant. He also provides laboratory support to the UW-Stevens Point undergraduate program in paper science and engineering, and will be assisting with WIST’s hands-on courses including papermaking and pulping and bleaching.


The Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology —

Creating sustainability solutions and economic opportunities

WIST offices are in the Science Building and the Dan Trainer Natural Resources Building on the UWSP campus. Direct mail to: Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology 800 Reserve Street University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Stevens Point, WI 54481 For further information or to discuss this report, contact: Dr. Paul Fowler Phone: 715-346-3767 Email: WIST is online at

With support from the UWSP College of Natural Resources and the College of Letters and Science

Profile for Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology


Sustainability in research, laboratory services and education; activities of the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology


Sustainability in research, laboratory services and education; activities of the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology


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