00:45:02 - 00:54:27 Friends, Post-Docs
friends, post-docs; Tien, Ming; Lemar, Rich; Hamill, Ken; Chang, Ho Min; Odier, Etienne; Mozak, Mike; Koning, John, collaboration, bio-pulping, industry, environment; Jefferies, Tom, lignin, five-carbon sugars
Okay. I guess the last part that I really wanted to kind of capture was any memories that you have about specific people at the Lab and overall, general perceptions of the lab during your time here.
Yeah I had several good friends---they still are good friends, at the Forest Products Lab. Some of them I worked with and some of them were in other groups, some of them were at the University. So having that close camaraderie is, it was important, that was fun. I enjoyed very much working with some of my post-docs, in particular Ming Tien who came to me with a PhD in biochemistry from Michigan State. And Rich Lamar came to me with a PhD in soil science from NC State. Ken Hammel who came from Germany, he was doing a post-doc in Germany when we hired him. And several, I'm not doing some of the others justice because I can't remember their names, but I really very much enjoyed working with those guys and planning experiments and trying to interpret results.
And several scientists in other universities or laboratories I really enjoyed working with. Hon -Min Chang at North Carolina State, who I did not know when I was there, he came after I left. He is a professor, was a professor of wood and paper science there, I think that's the name of it. We published a lot of papers together, of practical and basic aspects of our work. Etienne Odier in Paris was a French guy, obviously, that I had really enjoyed working with. He spent time here and we published some papers together. Had a lot of fun working with some of the technicians, Mike Mozak in particular. He and I had a lot of fun making compounds and making things work, growing up cultures and such things. I enjoyed working with John Koning, my supervisor, because he was such a generous administrator. He just worked for his people, and that is not always the case, so he tried very hard to protect his scientists from all of the petty nonsense that you get in any place, you know, whether it's industry or university or federal lab. And he did a good job of forming a good barrier for that kind of stuff. So I guess working with people was the most enjoyable thing, there're a lot of those "light going on" moments when the research was just a high point of the day. And let's see [pause].
One thing about this lab, it's all focused on forest products, or wood, and so in contrast to a university you can go, you can walk around the Lab and find somebody who's an expert on whatever question you have at the moment. There were some very good wood chemists at the Lab and I consulted with them many times and even engineers on occasion to [pause] you know, figure out how to do something. One of the things that we did toward the end of my career was, we worked on a practical process for biopulping, for pulping wood with fungi. When wood is pulped chemically, the process just takes out the lignin, leaving the cellulose, that's basically it. So the question was can we just take these lignin-degrading fungi and leave the---remove the lignin and leave the cellulose there? Well the answer is you can't get all the lignin out and the reason for that is that the lignin degradation is not self-supporting, the fungus has to eat some sugars in order to degrade the lignin, you can't get energy out lignin. So when you biopulp, you take out---you can have a selective fungus that will take out a lot of the lignin, but also will eat some of the sugars, the hemicelluloses they are, mainly. That worked in the lab and what it did was it reduced the energy, this is fungal treatment, reduce the energy required for making a pulp mechanically, that's another way to use papers for example, newsprint is just mechanical. And it reduced the energy for that by thirty percent and that process was taken to the fifty-ton scale and that's a big pile of woodchips and a photograph of that should be, if you have photographs in your book, that should be in there. That was done several times, but it never became commercialized.
Another thing that was done on a---well let me backup and tell you the reason it didn't become commercialized illustrates a point. The pulp and paper industry is very conservative and they don't, they hire chemical engineers mainly, civil engineers, they don't have anybody that "speaks biology." So almost any process that requires some knowledge of biology is over their heads, they don't have the background to understand it. And so biopulping, though it works very well and economics look great, is not commercial. Maybe it will with energy prices so high now, this is certainly going to be something worth looking at again although I don't know who's going to do it now, it's not studied here anymore, the work is done. We have patents. The bioremediation of soils, the work of Rich Lamar, was taken to a large scale also and in the procedure the fungus, fungi, whatever which one you're using there're several of them will work, are grown upon pellets and then the pellets are mixed in with the contaminated soil and the fungi grow and degrade the pollutant, the contaminant. That was taken to a large scale and that actually did become commercial. Unfortunately, under Reagan it wasn't as important to clean up the environment as it had been before and so the funding fizzled out on that project, but it was briefly commercial for a while. Some sites are still required to be cleaned up and I don't know the exact status of it anymore, but that was the case at one time.
Now Tom Jefferies, as I said, is the world leader on fermenting five-carbon sugars. Are you going to interview Tom? Maybe not. Let me tell you, anyway, if you take wood and convert it with acid or some other process is you get a mixture of the lignin and glucose and a five-carbon sugar named---glucose is six-carbon---five carbon sugar named zylose. It's about twenty-five percent lignin, twenty-five percent zylose, and fifty percent glucose. Anyway, obviously if you're going to ferment this mixture of sugars, the lignin is filtered off and burned or something [as well as six-carbon sugars]. But if you're going to ferment the sugars you got be able to ferment five-carbon sugars. And so plants that have a lot of these five-carbon sugars, which includes all crop plants and all broadleaf trees, broadleaf [hardwood] trees. It's very important to be able to convert that and Tom Jefferies has figured out how to do that, it's a specialized yeast he's been studying and which actually does it. [long pause]. So there. You can call if you want to ask any more questions.