A ribbon cutting in April marked the opening of the nation’s first cellulose nanofiber pilot plant in the University of Maine Process Development Center, which is observing its 25th anniversary. The Cellulose Nanofiber Pilot Plant, funded by a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service, is the only one of its kind in the United States.
The pilot plant manufactures cellulose nanofibers, a wood-based reinforcing material that is increasingly of interest to researchers worldwide in the development of high-value materials. Cellulose nanofibers are an advanced biomaterial made from renewable forest-and agriculture-based sources. Primarily, they are valued for their strength; a strand of CNF is stronger than steel and takes on different structures depending on how it is dried.
Nanocellulose fibers are approximately 1,000 times smaller than traditional paper fibers. The material can be made from any lignocellulosic source, such as wood, grasses, corn stalks or wheat straw. Nanomaterial has applications in automobile components, paint and coating additives, composites and filtration media.
Last year, UMaine and the USDA Forest Products Laboratory began a research collaboration on the conversion of wood components into novel nanomaterials; the incorporation of an array of nanomaterials into forest products to increase their functionality, durability and end-use performance; and development of new generations of high-performance wood-based materials. UMaine is part of a consortium of universities and industrial partners, led by the Forest Products Laboratory.
Image Description: UMaine Process Development Center