DULUTH (AP) -- The University of Minnesota-Duluth and two corporations are teaming up to develop products from chemicals found in birch bark.
Officials from the university, Potlatch Corp. and Minnesota Power Inc. said Tuesday they have formed a partnership called NaturTek to build on three years of research by university chemistry professors Robert Carlson and Pavel Krasutsky.
The professors, working within the university's Natural Resources Research Institute, developed patented techniques to grind and separate birch bark into what NaturTek calls ''natural compounds'' in commercial quantities.
The compounds, with names such as suberin, betulin, tannin and lupeol, have many possible uses, including industrial lubricants, insect repellents, shampoo additives and ingredients in medicines and foods, said Michael Lalich, director of NRRI.
Plans are for NaturTek to use NRRI's process on birch bark removed from logs at Potlatch's engineered wood-panel plants in Cook, Bemidji and Grand Rapids. Potlatch otherwise would burn the bark.
University researchers will work with Potlatch and Synertec, a subsidiary of Minnesota Power, to license Minnesota-Duluth's process and push commercial development of new products, officials said.
It is the type of arrangement the Legislature had in mind when it appropriated money for NRRI, which was formed to find new uses for natural resources in northeastern Minnesota and boost the region's economy.
''This venture reflects UMD's ongoing commitment to bring our research into the public arena,'' said Chancellor Kathryn Martin.
NaturTek would build a plant to extract the compounds for sale to other companies. The operation probably would employ 30 to 50 people, said Minnesota Power Chief Executive Officer Edwin Russell.
The partners on Tuesday named Brainerd native David Peterson president of NaturTek. Peterson, who has spent 17 years with Potlatch, was most recently in charge of a project to find additional uses for birch trees, putting him in close contact with NRRI scientists.
Peterson said some of the birch compounds could provide an environmentally friendly alternative to other chemicals, such as agricultural herbicides.
L. Pendelton Siegel, chief executive of Spokane, Wash.-based Potlatch, called it ''one of the biggest opportunities we at Potlatch have facing us, and we think it's also an opportunity for the people of northern Minnesota.''
In addition to the wood-panel plants, Potlatch operates paper mills in Cloquet and Brainerd and a lumber mill in Bemidji.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.