Research on Electronic Components Made from Wood Continues to Advance

The Forest Products Laboratory and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) have a history of collaboration aimed at making electronic components from wood. From flexible electronic screens to computer chips, this partnership has produced fascinating results. Learn more about the latest development in the following article from the UW.

Critical communications component made on a flexible wooden film

By Jason Daley

In the not-too-distant future, flexible electronics will open the door to new products like foldable phones, tablets that can be rolled, paper-thin displays and wearable sensors that monitor health data. Developing these new bendy products, however, means using materials like new plastics and thin films to replace the rigid circuit boards and bulky electronic components that currently occupy the interiors of cell phones and other gadgets.

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Method for Producing Graphene from Lignin Awarded Patent

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Zhiyong Cai, with industrial and academic partners from Domtar Corporation and Mississippi State University, was granted a patent on June 2, 2020 for their method of synthesizing graphene from lignin.   

Zhiyong Cai – Supervisory Materials Research Engineer

Graphene is one of the most promising materials of the future. Its potential to be implemented in tech manufacturing is huge, from medicine to medical devices, electronics to batteries, environmental protection equipment to devices used for clean-energy, and more.

One barrier to realizing the vast capabilities of this material is finding a low-cost, largely available source for graphene. The ability to produce graphene from lignin, as the patent describes, breaks down that barrier.

“Lignin is a primary component of the plant cell wall in most terrestrial plants and the second most abundant biopolymer in nature,” explained Cai. A byproduct of the pulping and papermaking process, most lignin has been used as a low-value material for fueling power and heat. Cai and his collaborators’ process now provides a higher value use for lignin. Importantly, the synthesizing method is not just limited to lignin but can be used to produce graphene from other solid carbon resources as well, especially biomass.

This novel method of synthesizing graphene allows for high-volume production. Cai best explained this now patented process:

“Few-layer graphene materials are produced through a molecular cracking and welding (MCW) method. The MCW technique is a single step process with two stages, i.e., graphene-encapsulated core–shell nanoparticles are first formed by catalytic thermal treatment of solid carbon materials. Then these core–shell structures are opened by ‘cracking molecules’ in the second stage and the cracked graphene shells are self-welded and reconstructed to form high quality multilayer graphene materials at a heating temperature with selected welding reagent gases.”

The formation of a graphene-based material from graphene-encapsulated core–shell nanoparticles. (a) Graphene-encapsulated metal nanoparticles; (b) cracked core–shell nanoparticles; (c) graphene sheets

This new and innovative method has been proven “to be a scalable process for the production of low-cost, high-purity nanoscale graphene materials from renewable resources,” bringing the fabrication of tomorrow’s technologies one step closer.

To find out more about the amazing advancements our scientists are making, visit the Forest Products Laboratory at: https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/

Research in Progress – Combating Climate Change through Sustainable Wood Products

Copyright atelierjones. Used by permission.

Like a raging forest fire, climate change has many fronts. And it won’t be fixed by a singular solution. Heroic systemic changes throughout all sectors are needed in order to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Cars, factory smokestacks, and coal are primary sources that easily come to mind when thinking about GHGs.

But turning a key on a brand-new home, whether apartment or single family? Could that really account for nearly a quarter of CO2 emissions?

A 2018 study titled, “Carbon Emission of Global Construction Sector,” found that global construction in 2009 produced 23% of CO2 emissions. That is 5.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide. And the hunger for new construction has only increased in the years since.

However, Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researchers are on the frontlines of sustainable solutions.

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Collaboration Yields U.S. Patent for Green Building Materials

University of Colorado Denver (CU) professor and architect Julee Herdt, in collaboration with John Hunt of the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), and Kellen Schauermann, architect, CU alumnus and research assistant, recently received a patent for environmental construction materials.

BioSIPs structural panels for wall, floor, and roof constructions.

The patent includes software and material science for converting 100 percent waste fibers, such as post-consumer wastepaper, agriculture residues, flowers, hemp, wood scraps, noxious weeds, dead trees, and other unwanted cellulose, into high-strength construction boards.  Using the technology, these dense yet lightweight and strong boards are bent and flexed into a virtually limitless array of shapes, from flat to complex, for making energy-efficient, non-off-gassing building materials, and buildings. The software also allows for associated manufacturing, economic, and recycling scenarios to be studied while the waste fiber eco-products are being designed. Continue reading

“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)