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College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture–Research & Development

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NSF Awards UMaine Grads $225,000 to Create Eco-Friendly Thermal Insulation Foam Board

An Orono-based company founded by two University of Maine graduates has been awarded $224,996 from the National Science Foundation to create a prototype for the first completely eco-friendly thermal insulation foam board.

Nadir Yildirim, a graduate of UMaine’s innovation engineering program and current Ph.D. student in the Wood Science and Technology Program in the School of Forest Resources, and Alexander Chasse, a 2013 civil engineering graduate from UMaine who works at the university conducting nanomaterial research, created Revolution Research, Inc. to develop recyclable and reusable products using cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) for several industries.

“I believe RRI will open a new page in the insulation industry,” says Yildirim, the project’s principal investigator.

The pair started RRI in 2014 to develop and commercialize replacements of petroleum-based thermal insulation products. RRI’s current focus is the creation and commercialization of thermal and acoustical insulation foam boards for use in the construction industry.

One of the largest uses of energy is heating and cooling buildings, according to the researchers, which drives construction companies to search for products that improve insulation performance.

Foam board insulation products currently on the market are produced from petroleum-based chemicals. RRI aims to use CNFs and green polymers to produce an eco-friendly thermal insulation board with a lower carbon footprint as well as the necessary mechanical and thermal properties to meet market needs. The researchers also hope to offer the board at a comparable price to current insulation products.

CNFs have the ability to reinforce weak materials, permitting new composite products. The raw material, cellulose, is abundant and obtainable from renewable sources including plants and sea animals. Green polymers that will be used in the project also are a readily available renewable resource, but are weak and brittle without CNF reinforcement.

“RRI’s novel foam boards will not only be better for the environment than current petroleum-based products, but will also provide improved energy efficiency,” Yildirim says. “With a better thermal insulation you can save the environment; you can save lots of money.”

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I project also will allow the team to rent space and buy equipment for a laboratory. Currently RRI doesn’t have any employees, but within the next five years, Yildirim hopes the company will have its own Maine-based production facility with about 30 employees.

Successful completion of the project will provide the opportunity for Phase II, which would allow RRI to apply for a grant up to $750,000.

Since the company began, RRI has received a $5,000 award from the Maine Technology Institute, as well as $5,000 for winning first place at the 2015 UMaine Business Challenge, the state’s largest student entrepreneurship competition.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Forestry Researchers Surveying Residents Along Penobscot River for Economic Development Study

University of Maine professors and Center for Research on Sustainable Forests leaders Sandra De Urioste-Stone and Robert Lilieholm are conducting a survey under the Bay-to-Baxter initiative. The study seeks to identify sustainable economic development pathways for the Penobscot River corridor that protect and leverage the region’s natural resources and quality of place.

De Urioste-Stone, leader of the CRSF Nature-Based Tourism Program, and Lilieholm, Conservation Lands lead for CRSF, are mailing 3,000 surveys to residents along the Penobscot River to learn their views on recreational use of the river, as well as their thoughts on the community and its ability to adapt to changing social, economic and environmental conditions.

“It is extremely important to understand and incorporate residents’ views and feedback for effective land and sustainable development planning to occur,” De Urioste-Stone says.

The survey is part of the larger project, “Promoting Sustainable Economic Development and Quality-of-Place in Maine: The Penobscot River ‘Bay-to-Baxter Corridor’ Initiative,” which is led by De Urioste-Stone with team members Lilieholm; Claire Sullivan, associate dean for community engagement; Linda Silka, of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center; and John Daigle, associate professor in the School of Forest Resources.

The researchers hope the survey will inform ongoing and future sustainable economic development and environmental efforts in the region that stretches from Penobscot Bay to Baxter State Park.

The area faces sustainability threats, as well as opportunities, and the team will use community feedback to support improved land use and economic development decisions across the region.

Research objectives include determining:

  • Characteristics of residents’ use of the Penobscot River, including activities, predicting future recreation use and perceptions of environmental conditions of the river;
  • Characteristics of residents, including attachment to the Penobscot River, status of employment, education and other socio-demographic descriptions; and
  • Beliefs associated with community resilience to environmental and economic development changes.

The Lower Penobscot River Watershed offers an ideal setting for studying and integrating stakeholder participatory scenario modeling, community resilience and sustainable economic development, De Urioste-Stone says.

The region faces multiple sustainability challenges, including an aging population, poverty, energy and food insecurities, high dependence on resource extraction, heavy reliance on social assistance programs, strong urban-rural gradients, active species and watershed restoration efforts, and public health challenges.

The difficulties, which aren’t unique to Maine, pose risks to social, political and economic systems around the world, according to the researchers. They hope what they learn in Maine will have widespread applicability.

Even with its set of growing challenges, the watershed has several assets that can develop and leverage community health and economic growth. These assets include UMaine, the Greater Bangor area, the I-95 corridor, Bangor International Airport, an international border, an abundant coastline and natural and cultural amenities that attract tourists. Recent development proposals have sought to build upon and leverage those resources, the researchers say.

The project will integrate information generated through the resident and user survey for an alternative futures modeling study led by Harvard Forest and funded by the National Science Foundation that aims to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of decision making.

The study includes service-learning opportunities for several undergraduate and graduate students and is funded by UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the UMaine Rising Tide/NSF ADVANCE Award.

The Conservation Lands and Nature-Based Tourism programs at CRSF conduct applied and collaborative research to better understand, monitor and anticipate important issues regarding Maine’s conservation lands, and to understand the economic impacts of tourism.

Think Big, Go Small, Mass Produce

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.

Image Description: nano

Seeing Forests Through The Trees

Since 1800 — two decades before the Pine Tree state existed as a state — the most rapid rate of land protection in northern New England (NNE) occurred from 1999 to 2010.

Forty-four percent of all the protected area (PA) in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire was added during those 11 years, says Spencer Meyer, former associate scientist for forest stewardship with the University of Maine Center for Research on Sustainable Forests.

Image Description: land conservation

Bataineh Awarded Funds to Research Spruce Budworm Effects

Mohammad Bataineh, an assistant research professor of quantitative silviculture and forest modeling at the University of Maine’s Center for Research on Sustainable Forests, was awarded $69,747 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service for his proposal, “Incorporating spruce-budworm impacts into the Acadian Variant of the Forest Vegetation Simulator.”

Outbreaks of the native spruce budworm insect (Choristoneura fumiferana) cause tree mortality and growth reduction, which negatively affect forest productivity. Outbreaks also cause uncertainty in predicting future wood supplies and forest conditions. Sustainable management of the Northern Forest requires accounting for outbreak effects in forest management planning and wood supply forecasts, according to the proposal.

Bataineh’s five-year project aims to modify the Acadian Variant of the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) to account for spruce budworm effects on tree and stand development.

Aaron Weiskittel, an associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling, is the project’s co-principal investigator.

The FVS is a system of forest growth simulation models that have been calibrated for specific geographic areas, or variants, of the country. The system can simulate a range of silvicultural treatments for most major forest tree species, forest types and stand conditions, according to the Forest Service’s website.

The research project also proposes to establish the Acadian Variant as the base stand growth model in the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System.  The Canadian Forest Service developed the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System to assist foresters in planning and carrying out management activities that potentially reduce the damage caused by spruce budworm.

Researchers will compile a regional dataset on individual-tree growth and mortality under Maine’s most recent spruce budworm outbreak that occurred in the 1970s and ’80s.

The new capability of the Acadian Variant will provide Northern Forest managers with improved growth and yield projections and the ability to assess the potential impact of spruce budworm outbreaks on wood supply and forest level planning through the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System, according to the researchers.

Study to Focus on What the Public Wants in Outdoor Recreation

Sandra De Urioste-Stone, assistant professor of nature-based tourism, and John Daigle, associate professor of forest recreation management, have received a $34,499 grant from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry for the study: “How Well Are We Serving the Outdoor Recreation Public?” The purpose of this study is to investigate perspectives on outdoor recreation preferences and priorities, and perceptions on tourism development to help the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and other outdoor recreation managers to better understand current demand and improve decision-making. An online survey will be used to test conventional wisdom and open up new thinking regarding what the public wants and how they can best be served. In addition, study participants will be asked questions about their attitudes and beliefs about developing sustainable tourism in their communities. Data collected will be used to develop the 2015–20 Maine State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP). The plan requires that an analysis of outdoor recreation demand, supply, trends, and ultimately priorities be documented.

Research Objectives:

  • Generate new baseline data to inform the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands about what the recreation preferences and needs are for people who live in or visit Maine including basic background demographic data.
  • Identify the factors that influence outdoor recreation participation behavior, including identification of needs, opportunities, and constraints associated with outdoor recreation in Maine.
  • Determine how Maine State Parks are used and what can be done to improve the experiences and services they provide.
  • Determine the differences between perceptions from people who participate in outdoor recreation activities in Maine and a general population of Maine residents.
  • Measure Maine residents’ attitudes toward sustainable tourism and development.

The survey population for this study seeks to entice responses from both the general residents of Maine as well as nonresidents who have recreated in Maine and have paid some type of recreation fee for fishing, hunting, camping reservations, etc.

While the data collected on recreational preferences and behaviors will benefit the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, the questions related to sustainable tourism will have new scientific significance. Questions on sustainable tourism will utilize an attempt to revalidate the Sustainable Tourism Attitude Scale, a published psychometric instrument that has not yet been implemented on a statewide scale.

Functioning Family Forests

Finding more efficient ways to serve Maine landowners by incorporating social work strategies — including effective communication and resource- linking skills — into forest management is the goal of a collaborative project between researchers at two schools in the University of Maine College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture.

Jessica Leahy, an associate professor of human dimensions of natural resources in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, is leading the study that tests social work approaches to conservation in the Cumberland County town of Baldwin and surrounding communities. Researchers hope to determine if these strategies could lead to more effective outcomes to landowners’ challenges as opposed to using traditional forestry solutions, such as management plans and outreach materials.

“Social workers are good at listening to people — understanding their needs and connecting people to appropriate resources,” Leahy says. “That’s why we need social workers to help landowners; to listen to what they’d like to do with their land, and then connect and coordinate services from natural resource professionals.”

There are more than 85,000 families in Maine that own at least 10 acres of woods, Leahy says. Their needs can be addressed by UMaine, the Maine Forest Service and others if those organizations can provide services that work for landowners, she adds.

Many conservation problems are related to social and economic factors. While foresters and other natural resource professionals help landowners make decisions about land management, they may not be equipped to handle the challenges landowners face that involve family dynamics. A social work approach could be the answer to solving these conservation problems, Leahy says.

“Foresters specialize in land management and trees, but landowners are often dealing with human issues such as how to afford their taxes and how to talk to their family about what they’d like to happen with their land after they pass away,” she says. “Landowners also often don’t know what a forester can do for them nor do they know how to coordinate all the potential natural resource professionals that are there to help them.”

Leahy, the project’s forestry expert, hired Doug Robertson and Chris Young, students in the UMaine School of Social Work. Both Robertson, a senior in the bachelor’s of social work program from Benton, Maine, and Young, a first-year graduate student of social work from Bangor, Maine, grew up around Maine woodland owners. They’re interested in connecting with landowners through the project and learning more about the land that many families rely on and how community organizations can help.

Pam Wells, a licensed clinical social worker, is supervising the students and translating the social work aspect of the project. She is also a landowner who recognizes areas where social work and forestry intersect.

“Pam often talks about how challenging it is to find, understand and coordinate the various assistance programs that are out there for landowners like the Tree Growth Tax Law, Natural Resources Conservation Service cost-share programs and programs offered by the Maine Forest Service,” Leahy says.

Kevin Doran and Andy Shultz of the Maine Forest Service are also helping with the study.

The one-year project, which began in Sept. 2013 and runs through August 2014, received a $6,500 Maine Community Foundation grant. The project’s social work approach to conservation has been untested to date, Leahy says.

“It’s an innovative, highly experimental, never-been-done-before project that is bridging forestry and social work together in an effort to better engage and serve rural families who own forestland in southern Maine,” she says.

Part of the project will include the development of a forest-specific wraparound case management process that will be implemented with one landowning family. The wraparound process in social work recognizes that all aspects of someone’s life — social, economic and ecological — are related. This understanding is then used to help the individual by focusing on incremental progress, involving community support and using science-based interventions, according to Leahy.

The focus of the project will be on measuring and evaluating the outcomes of the approach to improve future efforts.

“Ultimately, we hope more landowners will be empowered to be stewards of their land, and that will lead to healthy forests, healthy rural economies and healthy families,” Leahy says.

Other aspects of the community project include assisting the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine with succession planning efforts, offering peer-to-peer learning experiences such as suppers and forums, organizing workshops for natural resource professionals to increase their cultural competency and researching community interest in creating a low-income wood bank — similar to a food bank — for the Baldwin area.

Upcoming peer-to-peer learning events include the project’s second woods forum and community supper Feb. 7, a workshop on estate planning for landowners Feb. 27 and a Forester’s Institute brown bag lunch on cultural competency April 11.

Robertson and Young are looking for a family to work with on the project. Interested families must live in Sebago, Hiram, Cornish, Limington, Baldwin or Standish and own at least 10 acres. To participate or for more information on the project or scheduled workshops, call Robertson, 207.435.4798, or Young, 207.992.6182.

Image Description: functioning family forest

Predicting the Future of Maine’s Forests

Understanding how forests function as complex adaptive systems and predicting the future characteristics of Maine’s woods are goals of a project by a team of University of Maine researchers.

The study also aims to improve an open-source forest ecosystem model to help make project insights more transferable to research in other forests.

Erin Simons-Legaard, a post-doctoral research scientist in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, is principal investigator of the project titled “When natural disturbance meets land-use change: An analysis of disturbance interactions and ecosystem resilience in the Northern Forest of New England.”

“We can’t control everything, but it’s important to understand the processes that are controlling what type of forest grows after it’s cut down and identify the underlying interactions between the human decision-making process and ecological dynamics,” Simons-Legaard says. “Once we identify where the interactions are the strongest, we know what pathways we can use if we want to change what our future forests will look like.”

Working with Simons-Legaard on the project are Jessica Leahy, an associate professor of human dimensions of natural resources at UMaine; Kasey Legaard, an associate scientist in the School of Forest Resources; Aaron Weiskittel, an associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling and Irving Chair of Forest Ecosystem Management at UMaine; and Emily Silver, a Ph.D. student in the School of Forest Resources.

The two-year project, which began in July 2013, was awarded a $235,494 National Science Foundation grant.

The relationship between the biophysical and social subsystems is an important factor in understanding how forest ecosystems work as complex systems.

“No two acres of forest are exactly the same unless you plant it — if even then — and that’s because forests are complex,” Simons-Legaard says.

The researchers are creating future projections of the northern half of Maine — about 10 millions acres — by focusing on the interactions between man-made disturbances such as harvesting and development, and natural disturbances such as wind and pests.

Periodically Maine’s northern forests will have an infestation of the eastern spruce budworm — a pest that targets balsam fir and spruce trees, two common and economically important tree species in Maine. During the last outbreak, a lot of spruce-fir forest became infested and was then salvaged. In many areas, fir and spruce were replaced by shade-intolerant northern hardwoods that can establish and grow faster than the softwood trees in open areas. This replacement can occur when spruce-fir forest is harvested before the understory completely develops.

“Researchers are trying to understand what drives that shift from softwood to hardwood and what it might mean for natural resources like wood supply and wildlife habitat,” Simons-Legaard says. “Maine’s northern forest has traditionally been spruce-fir dominated, and a big shift toward hardwood in a historical context would be unprecedented.”

For several years, Simons-Legaard and her husband Kasey Legaard had focused on the state’s two main disturbance agents — harvesting and spruce budworm. Since their research began, the pair noticed more discussion about development and what role it could potentially play in northern Maine.

The researchers decided to include land-use change as a disturbance to take a more comprehensive approach to understanding how forests work.

“Taking this approach means recognizing you have the natural system with its components — trees, soil communities of microbes and bacteria, wildlife community — and they are all interacting. Then you have people interacting in their social system and making decisions. In a forest, the natural system and the human system interact,” Simons-Legaard says.

Learning more about these interactions and how they might be influenced by different disturbances is at the core of the team’s research.

“For the social side the focus is on what influences a landowner’s decision to stop producing timber and develop. That’s what Jessica Leahy and graduate student researcher Emily Silver are focused on; the decision-making process of the landowners,” she says.

To make their results more transferable to other timber-producing forests, the team used an already-established software program instead of creating a project-specific program. The group is using LANDIS-II, a cell-based forest ecosystem model which has an active community of users and developers. Any improvements the researchers make to the software can quickly be distributed to all of its users.

Using a map of initial forest conditions and text files describing the life history characteristics of the area’s tree species, the program creates future projections of the forest by growing trees, dispersing seed, establishing new cohorts of trees and accounting for natural mortality. The program also has extensions that allow the researchers to add disturbances, such as harvesting.

For two years the team has been preparing the input files. The map of the area’s initial conditions of tree species and forest age was created using satellite imagery and U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plot data.

Text files created for the 13 most abundant tree species in Maine describe how species’ growth and mortality is influenced by environmental conditions. The files help the program model species establishment and competition after a disturbance.

“These text files have to describe in numerical terms what tree-species competition looks like and how species rank in terms of competitive ability,” Simons-Legaard says.

Once the files are complete, the information is entered into LANDIS-II, along with the disturbance extensions, to determine what Maine’s forests will look like in the future.

“There’s also a regional focus because we’re trying to understand Maine’s forests better; both the natural components, how they interact, how tree-species competition determines whether a forest comes out as softwood or hardwood, and how Maine’s landowners make their decisions,” Simons-Legaard says.

As spruce budworm begins to make its return and land-use change becomes more frequent, asking the preemptive “what if?” questions are important in determining where Maine’s forests are headed in the next 50 or 100 years, she says.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Image Description: Forestry

Wood Researchers Win Awards

Two University of Maine faculty members and a UMaine graduate student recently won awards for wood-related research at the 66th International Convention of the Forest Products Society.

William Davids, the John C. Bridge Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Stephen Shaler, a professor of wood science, were named winners of the L.J. Markwardt Wood Engineering Award, which is given for promoting knowledge of wood in the engineering field. Davids, Shaler and their co-authors R. Lagana and L. Muszynski were recognized for their paper, “Moment-Curvature Analysis of Coupled Bending and Mechano-sorptive Response of Red Spruce Beams,” which was published in Wood and Fiber Science in 2011.

Yucheng Peng, a Ph.D. student in the School of Forest Resources, won the Wood Award, which recognizes and honors the most outstanding graduate student research in the field of wood and wood products. His paper was “Spray-drying Cellulose Nanofibrils: The Effect of Spray-Drying Process Parameters on Particle Morphology and Particle Size.” Peng’s research focuses on developing nanotechnology.

Contact: Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777

Sustainable Maine Documentaries Available Online

Maine EPSCoR and SSI are collaborating with MPBN on “Sustainable Maine” a series of documentaries highlighting the work of SSI researchers and stakeholders as they come together to take on tough issues. The first two episodes, “The Triple Bottom Line” and “Desperate Alewives”, are available online at Additional information and podcasts on the featured researchers, projects, and partners is available at


Contact Information

College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture--Research & Development
5782 Winslow Hall, Room 101
Orono, Maine 04469-5782
Phone: 207-581-3228 | Fax: 207-581-3207E-mail:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System