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Week of 6 Feb 2017: What has changed? What is new?

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This is transportation month at Paperitalo Publications. I looked back to see what I had written last year at this time. I started the month talking about driverless trucks and claimed we would be seeing them within five years. I'll stand by that claim; we are down to four years now.

Where will we see driverless trucks first? On tightly controlled roads, such as turnpikes. For instance, for many years now, UPS and FedEx have pulled triple short trailers across northern Ohio on the Ohio Turnpike. In New York State, I have seen double long trailers pulled on the turnpikes. In both cases, there are marshalling yards at both ends where these consists (to use a railroad term) must be broken down or assembled. These schemes are not allowed on other roads.

So, we will see driverless trucks, I predict, first on such highways. It is likely that they will start with special sensors installed on these turnpikes so the driverless trucks have every reasonable steering and avoidance aid possible to operate safely. Driverless trucks will expand from these controlled highways to every road as the knowledge base grows on how to operate them safely.

This is all driven by costs and scarcity of drivers. So, expect it to move as fast as technology will allow.


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Let's be adventuresome in our transportation vision. Why not build a pulp pipeline from Brazil to the USA? Or if you think that is too ambitious, build one from Indonesia to China; it would be half the distance from Brazil to the USA.

Now that your snickering is over, let's think about this seriously. It is only 2,030 miles (3,270 km) from Jakarta to Hong Kong. At USD 1 million per mile, this is only USD 2 billion--and some of the pulp mills cost more than this. Of course, it will need to be longer than this to reach mills on both ends, but the point is, this is a project that appears feasible on the surface. Are there challenges to pumping pulp in a pipeline? Certainly, but it has been piped several miles before. There must be enough basic knowledge to make design and constructing such a project possible.

This could be managed like liquid petroleum pipelines are (and there are 199,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines in the United States alone, delivering everything from crude oil to retail gasoline).


Join Jim Thompson on the 2nd Annual Papermakers Mission Trip to Guatemala, 22 - 29 July 17. Build houses, talk about the pulp and paper industry. For more information, email with "Guatemala" in the subject line.


So, it is feasible. It eliminates pulp dryers at the pulp mills. With enough customers signed up, the delivered pulp slurry can go directly to stock preparation at the customer's mills.

What have we saved with this project? Drying and repulping the pulp. Handling at the pulp mill and paper mill. Overland delivery and receipt from ports. Sea shipment. From an environmental standpoint, the pulp will be moved by pumps deriving energy from central power stations where emissions are well controlled; there are no internal combustion engines (and their exhaust) anywhere in the delivery chain.

There are savings for the seller and the buyer. It is a matter of putting together a consortium to do the project. It makes a lot of sense.

What do you think about trucks and pipelines? Take our quiz this week here.

For safety this week, both items talked about this week in this column will improve safety. In the meantime, practice safety with the tools we have today.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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