U students to race paper kayak in national challenge

Kate Garsombke

Last fall, four University paper engineering students converged on the St. Paul campus to discuss a project. They planned, they plotted and they even drew diagrams on computers.
Their mission — building a kayak entirely out of paper.
Now, almost a year later, the project will culminate Saturday in the U.S. Department of Energy’s “1999 Energy Challenge” at Sweetwater Creek State Park, located near Atlanta, Ga. The team taking first place at the Energy Challenge stands to win $15,000.
“When we heard about the project, we thought we could do it in a weekend,” said Jeremy Iten, a senior who worked on the kayak.
It took considerably longer and more money than the four first thought.
Asgar Rahman, also a senior in paper science engineering, said what perhaps took the longest time was consulting various paper companies about the different technologies available for use in the project.
Eventually, the group decided to use make their kayak out of 100 percent-recycled-paper. Additionally, they coated their kayak with a new sealant technology called M-Guard, which is produced by Liberty Paper, Inc. of Becker, Minn.
“We’re probably going to be the only boat down there that’s recyclable,” Rahman said. Rahman works at Liberty and negotiated with the company in order to use their technology.
Unlike other latex-based or wax-based sealants typically used to coat paper, M-Guard can be recycled. It was because of its environmentally friendly qualities and because it is a company based in Minnesota that Iten said they chose M-Guard.
Along with new paper technologies, the group received a $2,000 start-up grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. This money went toward building costs and shipping the boat to Atlanta.
The paper kayak will be pitted against 10 other schools in a 150-yard race down a river.
The kayak will also be tested for its mechanical efficiency and safety, provided that it meets size and weight specifications.
Iten said by maximizing mechanical supports within the framework, the team minimized any sort of adhesives, which reduced the weight of the kayak. The boat weighs in at about 22 pounds — significantly less than the maximum weight of 35 pounds. The kayak is 8-feet-8-inches in length, 24 inches wide, and 18 inches high.
“They’ve given a lot of thought to this kayak design,” said Shri Ramaswamy, faculty adviser and paper science engineering professor. “That’s why I’m anxious to see if it’s going to topple over,” he jokingly added.