“The Revolutionary Role of Wood in our Future”: USDA blog post highlights FPL research

The following is a post on the USDA blog highlighting research from the Forest Products Laboratory and the Northern Research Station. The original post can be seen here.

The Revolutionary Role of Wood in our Future

by David N. Bengston, Research and Development, USDA Forest Service
T3 Building in Minneapolis

The T3 Building in Minneapolis was constructed using cross-laminated timber, or CLT. Made from layers of wood crisscrossed and held together by fire-resistant glue, CLT is as strong as structural steel and greatly speeds up construction. (Photo credit: MGA | Michael Green Architecture, DLR Group; photo by Ema Peter; winner of a WoodWorks Wood Design Award)

Some people are just way ahead of their time. In the mid-20th century, when most people thought of wood as an archaic and low-tech material, Egon Glesinger foresaw the revolutionary role it would play in our future, described in his book The Coming Age of Wood.

Scientists in the Northern Research Station’s new Strategic Foresight Group developed a horizon scanning system to identify emerging issues and trends that could be game-changers. A theme that has emerged is the wave of amazing innovations in wood products that could prove Mr. Glesinger right.

For example, wood-based nanomaterials have been produced at the Forest Products Lab (FPL) for more than five years. This renewable, biodegradable material can be used to make computer chips, flexible computer displays, car panels, replacement tendons – for humans – and coatings that keep food fresh longer.

Tall wood buildings, or plyscrapers, are sprouting up across the globe today, built with cross-laminated timber (CLT) and based on research from the FPL and elsewhere. CLT is made from layers of wood crisscrossed and held together by fire-resistant glue. It is as strong as structural steel, greatly speeds up construction, and has a much lower carbon footprint than steel and concrete buildings.

Power-generating wood flooring is being tested at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a collaboration between the University’s College of Engineering and the FPL. Made mostly from recycled wood pulp, the flooring is chemically treated to produce an electrostatic charge as people walk across it. The charge can power lights and smart building sensor networks, and charge batteries.

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Students generate electricity while they walk the floors of the student union building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Made mostly from recycled wood pulp, the flooring captures the energy of footsteps and turns it into usable electricity. (Photo by Adrienne Nienow)

The list of high-tech innovations in wood products goes on. Cellulose from wood pulp could be cheaper and stronger than petroleum-based polymers currently used for 3-D printing . Fabric made from wood fibers could revolutionize both the textile and forest industry. Wood nails can be driven into solid structural timber without drilling pilot holes. A new process chemically removes lignin from natural wood fibers to produce a transparent wood substitute for glass windows and solar cells. And biodegradable electronics could someday help curb the problem of e-waste.

These and many other marvels of wood product innovation could make the 21st century the century of wood , increasing demand for wood, leading to increased tree planting to meet demand, and the development of markets for wood currently lacking market value. Importantly, thinning overgrown forests with high fuel loads to supply these markets may also decrease wildfire risk.

Wood-based nanomaterials

Wood-based nanomaterials can be used to make electronic components like this one pictured, computer chips, car panels, replacement tendons, and coatings that keep food fresh longer. (US Forest Service courtesy photo)

How Forests Make Lives Better: A Whiteboard Video

The North American Forest Partnership (NAFP) recently released a creative whiteboard video outlining all the ways forests make our lives better. NAFP is a diverse group of companies and organizations from throughout the United States and Canada – including the U. S. Forest service – who are committed to the management of sustainable, healthy forests.

Here at the Forest Products Laboratory, we work every day toward a powerful statement made in the video: “From root to branch, from leaf to bark…always innovating.”

Take a minute (or three) to watch and be reminded of the many ways forests improve your life. “Our trees are amazing. By looking after them, we look after ourselves.”

 

 

 

 

FPL Researchers Honored by Forest Stewardship Council

The Forest Stewardship Council, the world’s leading forest certification system, announced its 2017 FSC Leadership Awards in a celebration at Greenbuild. Recognizing enduring commitment to forest conservation, the award shines a light on people, companies and buildings that are breaking new ground and promoting responsible forest management.

The Forest Products Laboratory’s Center for Wood Anatomy Research was honored with a FSC Leadership Award “for applying state-of-the-art forensic wood science to verify the accuracy of FSC claims on more than 1,000 products annually.” Continue reading

Researchers Honored for Life Cycle Assessment Work

The American Center for Life Cycle Assessment (ACLCA) recently honored extraordinary leaders in life cycle assessment (LCA) at the LCA XVII Awards Dinner in Porthsmouth, New Hampshire. Among the winners was the Federal LCA Commons, of which Forest Products Laboratory researchers Richard Bergman, Hongmei Gu, and Shaobo Liang are a part. Continue reading