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UMaine Energy Challenge Team to Build Paper Snowboard

Contact: Science writer: Nick Houtman, Dept. of Public Affairs, 207-581-3777; Team advisor: John Hwalek, Dept. of Chemical and Biological Engineering, 207-581-2302

ORONO, Maine — Students on this year’s University of Maine Energy Challenge team will have a natural advantage in the annual pulp and paper technology competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). For once, the long Maine winter will work in their favor.

The students’ task is to design and build a snowboard using only paper and paper industry chemicals.

“In the past we’ve had to build a paper wind surfer and a paper sail,” says John Hwalek, professor of chemical engineering and team advisor. “We weren’t able to get out and do testing before the competition in April. This year, we’ll be able to do that. It will be the teams from Florida and Georgia that will have a harder time.”

Eleven UMaine students, all in the Dept. of Chemical and Biological Engineering, have signed up for the project. They are one of 14 participating teams from around the country and have already competed successfully for a $2,000 DOE seed grant. The student engineers will use two campus facilities to produce their snowboard — the Pulp and Paper Process Development Center and the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center.

The rules call for the board to be made of at least 80 percent cellulose fiber by weight. “The non-paper additives can add up quickly, and you need them for stiffness and to make the surface smooth. There needs to be a balance of fiber and additives. As you use more chemicals, that balance can be difficult to achieve,” says Hwalek.

The annual competition concludes in early April at a Colorado location to be announced. Student teams will be judged by their technical work as well as the board’s performance in a downhill race. More information about the DOE Energy Challenge is available at

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