UWSP Receives $5 Million for Economic Development

The following is an article from the Wausau Daily Herald, which can be found here.

STEVENS POINT — Officials from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point say nearly $5 million in grants will help improve the quality of instruction, training opportunities and services they will offer to businesses across the region.

The funds are part of $22.5 million made available through the UW System’s Incentive Grant Program. A total of 56 proposals were submitted from across the state, and 12 were accepted, with UWSP receiving more than a fifth of the total funding for its three projects. The funds will be distributed over the next two years.

The Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology will receive $2.8 million to expand its work with processing cellulose and another $1.4 million for upgrades to its pilot paper machine. Another $677,500 was awarded to UWSP for a business incubator for the aquaculture and aquaponics industries.

Karyn Biasca, department chairwoman of the paper science and engineering department at UWSP, said she believes the grants for WIST will help dramatically increase enrollment, which is 65 in her department this fall, during the next 10 years.

“It’s an amazing opportunity. Some of these improvements we had hoped to have in three or four years, and now we’ll get them in 18 months,” Biasca said. “Students will be able to learn on updated equipment, and work on new projects with companies we partner with.”

Meeting demand through expansion

Paul Fowler, director of WIST, said the paper machine improvements, which will allow students to add chemicals to different stages of the paper-making process as well as a laminator that pushes materials together to create paper, will help the university create different kinds and qualities of paper. He said the paper industry is exploring new types of food packaging that can help food last longer on the shelf as well while still being biodegradable. With the improvements, WIST can help in the research of developing those products, Fowler said.

Fowler said the university also will use grant money to develop a testing service to which companies could send their own biodegradable paper products to be analyzed. The Federal Trade Commission requires companies to have reliable scientific evidence behind products or packaging that they claim is biodegradable.

Expera Specialty Solutions, headquartered in Kaukauna, is a leading manufacturer of specialty paper products in North America. Addie Teeters, marketing communication and media relations manager with the company, said Expera employs several UWSP graduates among its 1,800 workers in Wisconsin. Teeters said she is confident Expera will benefit from working with UWSP to help develop and test biodegradable food packaging.

“That area of the paper industry is growing because companies and their customers want those kinds of products, and pairing with the university will help us develop them locally,” Teeters said.

Eric Singsaas, director of research for WIST, said the university currently teams with American Science and Technology in Wausau to process up to 200 pounds of cellulose — a component of biomass — daily. Singsaas said companies are looking for new ways to process cellulose into chemicals, packaging and fuels, which is increasing demand for the university’s services. With the $2.8 million grant, the university and American Science and Technology will be able to expand AST’s operation to about two tons a day, he said.

“We’re at the point right now where we are turning business away, and this money helps us move forward to meet that demand,” Singsaas said.

The third project will allow the university to partner with the UW-Extension to created a business incubator to help increase education and training in aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish or plants, and aquaponics, the production of food through water and aquatic animals.

UWSP Media Relations Director Nick Schultz said Wednesday that staff members have yet to make any specific decisions about how to move forward with the $677,500 awarded for the project.