The U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory recently opened a $1.7 million production facility for renewable, forest-based nanomaterials. This facility is the first of its kind in the United States and one that positions the laboratory as the country’s leading producer of these materials, also called nanocellulose.
Nanocellulose is simply wood fiber broken down to the nanoscale. For perspective, a nanometer is roughly one-millionth the thickness of an American dime. Materials at this minute scale have unique properties; nanocellulose-based materials can be stronger than Kevlar fiber and provide high strength properties with low weight. These attributes have attracted the interest of the Department of Defense for use in lightweight armor and ballistic glass. Companies in the automotive, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, and medical device industries also see massive potential for these innovative materials.
USDA Natural Resources and Environment Under Secretary Harris Sherman was the keynote speaker for this grand opening event, and he was encouraged by the advances being made in the field of wood nanotechnology at the FPL.
Industry representatives from IBM, Lockheed Martin, Ecolab, the pulp and paper industry, and various universities met with Under Secretary Sherman to discuss opportunities for advancing what is described as game-changing technology through official working partnerships.
In a time of tight budgets, the Forest Service alone cannot advance nanotechnology, said Sherman. “We need to build our public/private partnerships.”
Sherman said he welcomes discussion with industry leaders about expanding cooperation at the Federal level to develop effective partnerships. “My door is open…” said Sherman, “to talking about how we can expand at the Federal level our resources and commitment to what is occurring here today.” Such partnerships demonstrate how “we are all stepping to the plate, rolling up our sleeves, and putting our shoulder to the wheel” Sherman said.
The facility will support an emerging market for wood-derived renewable nanomaterials, helping to spur forest-based job growth and contribute an estimated $600 billion to the American economy by 2020.
The U.S. and other nations will see numerous benefits from the commercialization of wood-derived cellulosic nanomaterials. Development and commercialization of new lightweight, high-performance wood-derived products can help reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while increasing the potential for rural manufacturing opportunities, including the creation of many new high-paying jobs.
The Forest Product Lab’s new facility will aid in the commercialization of these materials by providing researchers and early adopters of the technology with working quantities of forest-based nanomaterials.