ARCHIVED - How white is white?

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January 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

White means big money in the pulp and paper industry. For decades, manufacturers of fine paper have used fluorescent additives to whiten their paper, which increases the price they can charge for their product. "It commands premium value in the marketplace to have a paper product that is seen as being very white," says Robert Wood, Executive Director of the Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada.

But how do Canada and its trading partners agree on whiteness? For the past decade, NRC has been the world's keeper of optical property standards for fluorescently whitened paper as set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Paper companies around the world trace their whiteness measurements back to ISO-authorized labs such as the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada (Paprican), and these labs in turn trace their standards back to the measurement science labs at NRC.

The "whiteness" of paper is a key component of its market value. NRC, which is recognized as the world authority in paper whiteness measurements, developed the reference instrument that establishes the absolute whiteness level for various types of paper.

"That traceability is important to our big customers — the companies that buy thousands of tonnes of paper a year from us," says Denis Doutre, Director of Technical Field Services for Domtar Inc. "They know the whiteness value we give them is a true number — we didn't just make it up."

Tracing their measurements back to NRC also saves companies money. With world markets creating a demand for whiter paper, Canadian companies must prove that their whiteness values are up to ISO standards, or they risk having to add more fluorescent material to their product. "That can add up to several dollars per tonne of paper, and in our business that can make or break you," says Doutre.

"Standards keep people honest. They create a level playing field in business, and we like that."

Denis Doutre, Director of Technical Field Services, Domtar Inc.

NRC works with Paprican and the other four ISO-authorized laboratories in the U.S., Sweden, Finland and France to make sure that companies around the world have access to the highest quality standards for paper whiteness. NRC and Paprican are also working with the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) to improve the lab methods used to measure paper.

"For fluorescent paper, it's critical that the type of light you're using for instrumental measurements of whiteness accurately simulates the average office lighting conditions under which the paper will actually be used," says Dr. Joanne Zwinkels, leader of the photometry and radiometry group at the NRC Institute for National Measurement Standards in Ottawa. "We're working with the CIE to recommend a standardized 'indoor daylight' which is closer to real-world lighting conditions."

NRC works with other national metrology institutes around the world to maintain the global standards that are critical for international trade — everything from time, length and mass to novel measurements needed for medicine, nanotechnology and biotechnology.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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