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Think Big, Go Small, Mass Produce

nano

University of Maine researchers have been awarded $700,000 to develop eco-friendly particleboard panels with adhesive made of cellulose nanofibrils (CNF), as well as design a commercial-scale plant to manufacture the CNF.

With one $350,000 grant, UMaine scientists Mehdi Tajvidi, William Gramlich, Doug Bousfield, Doug Gardner and Mike Bilodeau, as well as John Hunt from the USDA Forest Service (USFS), are tasked with making strong, stiff and fully recyclable particleboard panels that can be used in countertops, door cores and furniture.

UMaine researchers taking part in the project have areas of expertise ranging from forest products to chemistry to chemical and biological engineering.

The adhesive in the particleboard will be made from CNF, rather than what has commonly been used — urea-formaldehyde. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen.

Cellulose nanomaterials are natural structural building units from wood; they’re 1/100,000th the width of a human hair and can be used in high-value products with superior properties, including exceptional strength.

“High-volume applications of cellulose nanomaterials, such as what we will be doing in this research, are a key step toward commercialization of these wonderful all-natural nanomaterials,” says Tajvidi, assistant professor of renewable nanomaterials in the School of Forest Resources.

“Replacing formaldehyde-based resins with a biomaterial has always been desired and we are happy this is happening at UMaine.”

University scientists say utilizing CNF in particleboard has considerable market promise, and optimizing both techniques and methodology are key to successful mass production and commercialization.

To optimize techniques and methodology, UMaine has been awarded another $350,000 to construct a commercial-scale CNF manufacturing plant with a capacity of 2 tons per day.

“This first commercial cellulose nanofibril manufacturing plant is the next phase in demonstrating the scalability of the technology,” says Bilodeau, director of the UMaine Process Development Center.

“It will accelerate commercialization of CNF by making large quantities of CNF available to support the growth in application development activities.”

Paperlogic, a Southworth Company, is a collaborator on the plant project. The CNF plant is slated to be built at Paperlogic’s mill in Turners Falls, Massachusetts; it is expected to be commissioned in late 2015.

Both projects are funded through P3Nano — a public-private partnership founded by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the USFS.

The goals of the project are to commercialize cellulosic nanomaterials, create jobs and improve forest health.

Experts in business, government and academia chose to fund the UMaine proposals and seven others from 65 submissions.

Carlton Owen, chair of the P3Nano Steering Committee and president of the endowment, said in addition to creating high-value products, the research could result in jobs and improve the health of forests.

Federal matching funds are provided by the Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry and Research and Development branches and work is coordinated with the USFS Forest Products Laboratory.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

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