Tag Archives: US Forest Products Laboratory

US Dept. of Agriculture wants to commercialize cellulose nanomaterials

Lynn Bergeson in an April 7, 2014 posting on the Nanotechnology Now website announced an upcoming ‘nano commercialization’ workshop (Note: A link has been removed),

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) will hold a May 20-21, 2014, workshop entitled “Cellulose Nanomaterial — A Path Towards Commercialization.” See http://www.nano.gov/ncworkshop The workshop is intended to bring together high level executives from government and multiple industrial sectors to identify pathways for the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials and facilitate communication across industry sectors to determine common challenges.

You can find out more about the Cellulose Nanomaterial — A Path Towards Commercialization workshop here where you can also register and find an agenda, (Note: Links have been removed),

The primary goal of the workshop is to identify the critical information gaps and technical barriers in the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials with expert input from user communities. The workshop also supports the announcement last December by USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack regarding the formation of a public-private partnership between the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities to rapidly advance the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials. In addition, the workshop supports the goals of the NNI Sustainable Nanomanufacturing Signature Initiative/

The workshop is open to the public, after registration, on a first-come, first-served basis.

There is an invitation letter dated Feb. 7, 2014, which provides some additional detail,

The primary goals of the workshop are to identify critical information gaps and technical barriers in the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials with expert input from user communities. We plan to use the outcome of the workshop to guide research planning in P3Nano and in the Federal Government.

The Cellulose Nanomaterial — A Path Towards Commercialization workshop agenda lists some interesting names. The names I’ve chosen from the list are the speakers from the corporate sectors, all eight of them with two being tentatively scheduled; there are 22 speakers listed in total at this time,

Tom Connelly – DuPont (Tentative)
Travis Earles, Technology Manager, Lockheed Martin
Beth Cormier, Vice President for R&D and Technology, SAPPI Paper
Ed Socci, Director of Beverage Packaging, PepsiCo Advanced Research
Mark Harmon, DuPont (tentative)
Kim Nelson, Vice President for Government Affairs, API
Jean Moreau, CEO, CelluForce
Yoram Shkedi, Melodea

For the most part the speakers will be academics or government bureaucrats and while the title is ‘cellulose nanomaterials’ the speaker list suggests the topic will be heavily weighted to CNC/NCC (cellulose nanocrystals, aka, nanocrystalline cellulose). Of course, I recognize the Canadian, Jean Moreau of CelluForce, a Canadian CNC production facility. I wonder if he will be discussing the stockpile, which was first mentioned here in my Oct. 3, 2013 posting,

I stumbled across an interesting little article on the Celluforce website about the current state of NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose aka CNC [cellulose nanocrystals]) production, Canada’s claim to fame in the nanocellulose world. From an August 2013 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Spotlight series article,

The pilot plant, located at the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Windsor, Quebec, is a joint venture between Domtar and FPInnnovations called CelluForce. The plant, which began operations in January 2012, has since successfully demonstrated its capacity to produce NCC on a continuous basis, thus enabling a sufficient inventory of NCC to be collected for product development and testing. Operations at the pilot plant are temporarily on hold while CelluForce evaluates the potential markets for various NCC applications with its stockpiled material. [emphasis mine]

I also recognized Melodea which I mentioned here in an Oct. 31, 2013 posting titled: Israeli start-up Melodea and its nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) projects.

A couple of final notes here, NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose) is also known as cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) and I believe the second term is becoming the more popular one to use. As for the final of these two notes, I had an illuminating conversation earlier this year (2014) about CNC and its accessibility. According to my source, there’s been a decision that only large industry players will get access to CNC for commercialization purposes. I can’t verify the veracity of the statement but over the last few years I’ve had a few individual entrepreneurs contact me with hopes that i could help them access the materials. All of them of them had tried the sources I was to suggest and not one had been successful. As well, I note the speaker list includes someone from PepsiCo, someone from Dupont, and someone from Lockheed Martin, all of which could be described as large industry players. (I’m not familiar with either API or SAPPI Paper so cannot offer any opinions as to their size or importance.) Melodea’s access is government-mandated due to research grants from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7).

I’m not sure one can encourage innovation by restricting access to raw materials to large industry players or government-funded projects as one might be suspected from my back channel experience, the conversation as reported to me, and the speaker list for this workshop.

Cleaning up oils spills with cellulose nanofibril aerogels

Given the ever-expanding scope of oil and gas production as previously impossible to reach sources are breached and previously unusable contaminated sources are purified for use while major pipelines and mega tankers are being built to transport all this product, it’s good to see that research into cleaning up oil spills is taking place. A Feb. 26, 2014 news item on Azonano features a project at the University of Wisconsin–Madison,

Cleaning up oil spills and metal contaminates in a low-impact, sustainable and inexpensive manner remains a challenge for companies and governments globally.

But a group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is examining alternative materials that can be modified to absorb oil and chemicals without absorbing water. If further developed, the technology may offer a cheaper and “greener” method to absorb oil and heavy metals from water and other surfaces.

Shaoqin “Sarah” Gong, a researcher at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) and associate professor of biomedical engineering, graduate student Qifeng Zheng, and Zhiyong Cai, a project leader at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, have recently created and patented the new aerogel technology.

The Feb. 25, 2014 University of Wisconsin–Madison news release, which originated the news item, explains a little bit about aergels and about what makes these cellulose nanofibril-based aerogels special,

Aerogels, which are highly porous materials and the lightest solids in existence, are already used in a variety of applications, ranging from insulation and aerospace materials to thickening agents in paints. The aerogel prepared in Gong’s lab is made of cellulose nanofibrils (sustainable wood-based materials) and an environmentally friendly polymer. Furthermore, these cellulose-based aerogels are made using an environmentally friendly freeze-drying process without the use of organic solvents.

It’s the combination of this “greener” material and its high performance that got Gong’s attention.

“For this material, one unique property is that it has superior absorbing ability for organic solvents — up to nearly 100 times its own weight,” she says. “It also has strong absorbing ability for metal ions.”

Treating the cellulose-based aerogel with specific types of silane after it is made through the freeze-drying process is a key step that gives the aerogel its water-repelling and oil-absorbing properties.

The researchers have produced a video showing their aerogel in operation,

For those who don’t have the time for a video, the news release describes some of the action taking place,

“So if you had an oil spill, for example, the idea is you could throw this aerogel sheet in the water and it would start to absorb the oil very quickly and efficiently,” she says. “Once it’s fully saturated, you can take it out and squeeze out all the oil. Although its absorbing capacity reduces after each use, it can be reused for a couple of cycles.”

In addition, this cellulose-based aerogel exhibits excellent flexibility as demonstrated by compression mechanical testing.

Though much work needs to be done before the aerogel can be mass-produced, Gong says she’s eager to share the technology’s potential benefits beyond the scientific community.

“We are living in a time where pollution is a serious problem — especially for human health and for animals in the ocean,” she says. “We are passionate to develop technology to make a positive societal impact.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Green synthesis of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)–cellulose nanofibril (CNF) hybrid aerogels and their use as superabsorbents by Qifeng Zheng, Zhiyong Cai, and Shaoqin Gong.  J. Mater. Chem. A, 2014,2, 3110-3118 DOI: 10.1039/C3TA14642A First published online 16 Dec 2013

This paper is behind a paywall. I last wrote about oil-absorbing nanosponges in an April 17, 2012 posting. Those sponges were based on carbon nanotubes (CNTs).

Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and their Nano4Design workshop

A Jan. 12, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlights some of the projects and materials presented at the Nov. 29, 2012 Nano4Design workshop held at Saint Martins College of Art and Design. But first, here’s more about the workshop before it was presented, from the workshop description on the IOM3 (Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining) website,

Sustainability is now a key driver in product design. Sustainability includes: reducing environmentally harmful emissions during processing, avoiding the use of toxic and scarce resources, using  sustainable materials, designing-in recyclability and re-use, and environmental remediation such as carbon capture.

Sponsored by and hosted at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, this workshop is a must-attend for all product designers looking for new sustainable technologies – a unique opportunity to hear new ideas, network with peers and meet technology providers.

This workshop is for designers, materials scientists, and engineers developing or looking for  sustainable solutions in product design. Application markets are diverse, from architecture to cars, aircraft to fashion, and electronic devices to alternative technology.

Speakers include:

• Harnessing Nanotechnology to Combat Climate Change for the Built Environment – Carole Collet, Textile Futures Research Centre, Central St Martins

• Inkjet Printing for Novel Solar Control – Brian Hughes, Solaveil

• Plastic Electronics for Tagging, Sensing and Energy – Richard Kirk, Polyphotonics

• Nanocellulose – A Sustainable Alternative – Prof Mizi Fan, Brunel University

• Novel Materials for Thermal Control – Zafer Ure, PCM Products

• Surface Regeneration for Buildings – Alessia Giardino, Textile & Surface Designer

• TSB Funding Call “New Designs for a Circular Economy” – John Whittall, Technology Strategy Board

The news item on Nanowerk provides more information about specific materials and projects discussed at Nano4Design,


An alternative nanostructured clay aerogel that is cost-effective and ultra- lightweight is being developed through an EU consortium. The ICECLAY project aims to enhance the competitiveness of SMEs by creating a new generation of low-cost and efficient insulation materials for the EU building construction industry.

Pros: The production of the material and its integrated composites will use water and eco-friendly or soluble/dispersible low-cost polymers and a cost-effective freeze-drying process. The ICECLAY material has a highly porous structure and reduced thickness.

Application: The thermal insulation material is designed for highly energy efficient buildings, retrofit and advanced HAVC systems.

Thin and flexible lightweight ICECLAY boards or films could also offer a cheaper alternative to high-performance insulation materials such as the supercritical-dried silica aerogel. The powderbased ICECLAY will be used as thermal insulation fillers for a broad range of building products, including concrete, drywalls, bricks, plaster and coatings.

The project will be completed in 2014. If you are interested in taking part in the ongoing group, visit the ICECLAY project website.

Nanocellulose hemp fibres

The Forest Products Laboratory branch of the US Forest Service has given a grant of US$1.7m to a pilot plant that will work on the production of cellulose nanocrystals. It is estimated that the plant will contribute US$600bln to the US economy by 2020.

Pros: This material out-toughs both carbon fibre and Kevlar while still being lightweight and is renewable and cheap to produce. Applications are far-reaching due to its optical, thermal and electronic properties, and can range from strengthening agents in paper manufacture to coating additives and barrier materials for packaging. While not a new material, investigations into wider applications are underway, such as in boards, walls, floors, coatings and retrofitting or building panels.

Professor Mizi Fan, who leads a nanocellulose research group at Brunel University, comments, ‘Its strength is comparable to aluminium and it has a strong surface area and high aspect ratio, so it can be easily combined with materials such as clay. Another benefit is that 25% of its mass is already nanostructured.’

Challenges: Moisture. The next step is to improve the material’s hydrophobic properties through surface engineering.

Polluted patterns

Textile and surface design graduate at Central Saint Martins, Alessia Giardino, has created an environmentally adaptive architectural solution that replicates nature by using living organisms to create surfaces that are ‘responsive, informative and decorative’.

Concrete Lace (pictured below [sic]) is a combination of concrete, organic materials, nanotechnology and textile techniques that can be used to regenerate urban and domestic environments. The base material is a concrete tile processed through photocatalytic cement, an innovative, sustainable technology containing TiO2.

‘The TiO2 reacts with light and so is able to break down pollution in the air, while purifying it,’ says Giardino. The TiO2 is applied using serigraphy printing, traditionally used in graphics and textiles. The parts that are protected by the TiO2 maintain a clean surface and prevent ageing and yellowing, while the uncovered surface turns into a catalyst for polluting substances and forms a pattern, making these surfaces look more appealing.’ Giardino is now seeking research and commercial partners to take the technology to market and test the technology on other substrates.

The cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) mentioned in the 2nd project description (excerpted from the news item) are also known as nancrystalline cellulose (NCC). The most fully realized of the projects (from the three excerpted from the news item) is Polluted patterns (from Alessia Giardino’s website)

Polluted patterns
Conceived as an artistic response to the problem of urban decay and working on the ethos of re-appropriation of negative aspects of the city, ‘Polluted Patterns’ emerge from the surface grime by selective cleaning technologies, creating a sort of ‘Living Wall’. Light-sensitive photo catalytic white cement or paint, have been screen printed to create ‘negative’ or ‘invisible’ motifs, that gradually become visible over time, as pollutants discolor the area of the surface not protected by these technologies. That section becomes catalyst of air bones pollutants, while the nanotechnology breaks down pollutants in the air though preserving the surface from their deposition.

Wrapped door
Pollution is defining a lace-like pattern assumed as metaphor of the poisoned air wrapping buildings, cities, everyday environment and affecting people health. Beyond is decorative aspect, is showing the increasing level of poor air quality we breath.

From Polluted Patterns slideshow on Alessia Giardino's website (http://www.alessiagiardino.com/pattern.html)

From Polluted Patterns slideshow on Alessia Giardino’s website (http://www.alessiagiardino.com/pattern.html)

Giardino’s work is being sponsored by Surface (from their home page),

Surface is a company specifically created to cater to the needs of the innovation hungry architectural and interior design community.

We call ourselves Surface because that’s what we supply.Bespoke surfaces.

At Surface, we gather together the most exciting, fresh and beautiful surface technologies and designs from across the globe into a one-stop destination website for those looking for the ultimate stand-out feature for their projects.

It seems the gamut at the November 2012 workshop ranged from work which is very much at the research stage (Iceclay) to materials which are being produced in pilot plants (CNC) to a product being readied for commercialization (Polluted patterns).

New nanocrystalline cellulose plant in Wisconsin, US?

According to the July 25, 2012 article by Rick Barrett originally published by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel McClatchy-Tribune Information Services) on the equities.com website,

The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, in Madison, says it’s opening a $1.7 million pilot plant that will support an emerging market for wood products derived from nanotechnology.

It also could boost Wisconsin’s paper industry by offering a new, high-value raw material made from wood pulp.

The pilot plant will supply nanocrystals to companies and universities that want to make materials from them or conduct their own experiments. For now, at least, it will employ just one person.

The first commercialized product to come from the program will likely be a paper coating. That could happen in a year, Rudie [Alan Rudie, a chemist and project leader of the nanotechnology program at the Forest Products Laboratory] said, and it will likely be several years before more advanced products come from the laboratory.

The program will make materials in kilogram quantities, something not readily available now. It will allow companies and universities to ramp up bigger projects because they will have the raw materials.

But while the Forest Products Laboratory wants to foster the technology, it doesn’t want to compete with businesses interested in producing the materials.

“We are part of the federal government, so we cannot compete against commercial companies. So if someone comes in and starts making these materials on a commercial level, we will have to get out of it,” Rudie said. That’s why, he added, the program has bought only equipment it can use for other purposes.

I suppose this nanomaterial from Wisconsin could be another crystalline substance  derived from wood but the description in the article makes it seem similar, if not identical, to the nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) which is produced by the CelluForce plant in Windsor, Québec in quantities of 1000kg per day, according to publicity. (Information about the CelluForce plant opening, the efforts in Alberta, and other international inanocellulose *efforts *were mentioned in my Dec. 15, 2011 posting.)

I  note Rudie’s emphasis on not competing with commercial interests and wonder  about the situation with the Canadian plants which are funded both by federal and provincial government and commercial enterprises (Canada + Québec + Domtar = CelluForce and Canada +  Alberta+Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, Inc. = plant production in Alberta).  In any event, I’m hoping the Canadian plants are going to be making their NCC accessible for Canadian innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs, as well as, the research community. After all, how else does one expect innovation to occur?

* Dec. 12, 2013 I changed ‘research’ to ‘efforts’ and changed ‘was’ to ‘were’.