FPL Partner Procures Patent: Better Building With BioSIPS

Whether serving as a bookshelf, tabletop, or wall panel, the composite board is a ubiquitous construction material found in furniture and homes alike. Traditional composite boards use mankind’s most trusted building resource, wood, as a base — but a new patented process using waste products stands to revolutionize the familiar building material, making it even more sustainable and environmentally friendly.


BioSIPS use low-value recycled material to make high-value structural materials.

Julee Herdt, a professor at the University of Colorado – Denver, and Kellen Schauermann, a former graduate student, were recently awarded a patent for their Bio-Structural Insulated Panels (BioSIPS) system. BioSIPS are structural boards comprised of waste material such as recycled paper, noxious weeds, industrial hemp, and forest debris.

Herdt, the CEO and president of BioSIPS Inc., hopes that her product will help ease the environmental and energy concerns of tomorrow.

Although wood-based Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) have been around for some time, Herdt’s BioSIPS, made from 100% recycled material, could replace their conventional wood counterparts. BioSIPS wall, floor, and roof panels even surpass conventional SIPS in some strength-testing areas (especially compressive and transverse loading) as well as exhibit superior thermal characteristics — which is important, as thermally-efficient structures go hand-in-hand with decreased energy usage.

Herdt’s accomplishment comes on the heels of a long legacy of research and collaboration with the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL). In 1995, she was part of a project that researched and tested GRIDCORE (FPL’s Spaceboard) panels — three-dimensional, molded structural panels comprised of recycled corrugated containers, old newsprint, and kenaf, a plant native to southern Asia. The name “spaceboard” referred to the spaces afforded by the waffle-like design of the GRIDCORE panels, which allowed for increased strength and decreased weight and material usage.

Nearly 20 years later, BioSIPS, like GRIDCORE panels before them, carry on the tradition of turning society’s low-grade waste into high-value products that have proven utility in real-world construction projects. Along with her personal office, Herdt and her team built entire houses with BioSIPS, winning first prize at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in 2002 and 2005.


Herdt, Schauermann and Hunt await another patent for new methods of creating complex three-dimensional shapes with fiber boards.

Herdt and Schauermann, along with FPL Research General Engineer John Hunt, are awaiting the award of a second patent, Cut-Fold Shape Technology for Engineered Molded Fiber Boards, which relates to a new process of folding fiber boards into three-dimensional shapes to maximize their utility and strength.

In a world of increased environmental awareness, BioSIPS promise to offer designers, engineers, and industry professionals new ways to build strong, energy-efficient structures and provide another avenue for society to make better use of its waste products. Through technologies like these, we will better be able to tackle the construction challenges of tomorrow in an environmentally responsible way.



Highrise Harvest: Vacant Buildings Ripe with Resources

Baltimore, Maryland, a city of more than 600,000 people locked in the largest urban corridor of the United States, seems like an unlikely place to find the rich resources of the forest. Look a little closer, or rather, inside of, the nearly 16,000 vacant homes and buildings however, and a different kind of landscape emerges—a landscape that researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) see great potential in. Behind the crumbling brick and stone facades lie wooden floors, beams, and other construction material that await to be re-purposed by savvy entrepreneurs willing to become the lumberjacks of these “urban forests.”

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, has 16,000 vacant homes. Reclaiming materials through deconstruction and establishing market outlets can create value where not currently exists.

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, has 16,000 vacant homes. Reclaiming materials through deconstruction and establishing market outlets can create value where none currently exists.

FPL researchers, in partnership with the Coalition for Advanced Wood Structures, recently conducted a feasibility study that aimed to provide a framework for collecting, processing and distributing this urban woody biomass in Baltimore. Instead of simply disposing of the rubble from the demolished buildings, the material is carefully collected, sorted, and eventually sold to companies that will turn it into new products.

The yearlong study, which comes to a close in July, involved securing a contract with the City of Baltimore to complete a pilot deconstruction project involving 50 row houses. Over the course of a year, the project leaders tracked the volume of extracted wood, analyzed the costs associated with the deconstruction activities, and built partnerships with organizations to establish a distribution chain and market outlet. The final report is scheduled to be released next month.

Although many municipalities have found innovative ways to use their urban wood supplies, this is the first study that stresses the idea that urban forestry can stimulate lasting economic growth in cities. A key component of the urban woody biomass project is to create more job opportunities for chronically unemployed and under-employed urban residents. In addition to the countless jobs that could be created with companies that use the biomass material in manufacturing, the researchers estimate that Baltimore gained more than 60 jobs as a result of the pilot project.

The team hopes that a permanent sort yard would serve as an industry hub, with up to 100 new employees collecting and sorting material from construction sites, local arborists, and urban wood waste collection efforts.

Other than being economically friendly, urban deconstruction and recycling efforts are environmentally friendly too. In a world with finite natural resources, re-purposing existing material will be an integral part of building a more sustainable tomorrow. The foresters of the future may have to trade their axes in for jackhammers to reap the fruits of this urban landscape, but their goal will remain the same: manage local resources in a sustainable way that’s beneficial for the community, local industry, and the environment.

For more information, see this Research in Progress report.


Brashaw Takes the Helm of Forest Products Marketing Unit

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) welcomes Brian Brashaw to the position of Program Manager for the Forest Products Marketing Unit (FPMU). He took the helm in early May.

Brashaw comes to the Forest Service from the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), where he served as Program Manager. In that role, he led a highly successful technology development and transfer group that helped a wide range of wood products businesses in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Through the NRRI, Brashaw has had a long, productive relationship with the Forest Products Laboratory in the areas of nondestructive evaluation of wood materials, utilization of urban wood waste, and timber bridges. Brashaw has a BS in Forest Management from UW-Stevens Point, a MS in Materials Science from Washington State University, and a PhD in Forest Resources from Mississippi State University. His educational and career path were established living in Wisconsin’s Nicolet National Forest as a youth with goals in forestry and forest products.

“Under Brian’s leadership, the FPMU will help ensure healthy, sustainable forests that are more resilient to disturbances by creating high-value, high-volume markets from woody biomass,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Products Laboratory and Northern Research Station.

Since 1996, the FPMU has maintained a strong partnership with State and Private Forestry and other mission areas of the Forest Service. With its emphasis on technology transfer, the FPMU helps accelerate forest restoration, improve economic conditions, expand wood utilization and marketing opportunities, improve economic conditions, and create new jobs.

Forest biomass cleanup

Forest biomass cleanup

“It has been a dream of mine, growing up in the north woods of Wisconsin, to have the opportunity to work with the U.S. Forest Service.  It is an honor to be a part of this great organization,” said Brashaw.

FPL is excited to have such a qualified and enthusiastic leader on board.


Newest Forest Products Journal Features Adhesives: Many FPL Researchers Present


Photomicrograph of an adhesive bond of two pieces of wood. The blue areas show the adhesive penetration into the wood structure.

The latest issue (Volume 54, No. 1/2, 2015) of The Forest Products Journal is all about adhesives. Featuring 10 selected articles addressing a theme of efficient use of wood resources in wood adhesive bonding research presented at the 2013 International Conference on Wood Adhesives in Toronto, Canada, we hear from several FPL scientists.

FPL has played an integral role in developing technical understanding of adhesives and setting product and performance standards by organizations such as the ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials), American Institute of Timber Construction (AITC), APA–The Engineered Wood Association (APA), and the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA).

The first glue development research at the FPL in 1917 was to improve water resistance of the best glues available for manufacture of WWI aircraft components. At that time, FPL began to develop composites in an attempt to conserve our forests and make use of waste wood. Adhesives for housing, other buildings, timber bridges, and other structures has always been important.

In the Introduction to Special Issue: Wood Adhesives: Past, Present, and Future, Team Leader, Wood Adhesives, Forest Biopolymer Science and Engineering, Charles Frihart provides a comprehensive history and explanation of the important role that adhesives have played in the efficient utilization of wood resources.

Speaking about wood products, Frihart says: “Adhesives will continue to be a growing part of efficient utilization of forest resources. However, acquiring suitable wood resources will continue to be a challenge because of a diminished supply of high-quality wood and competition for wood from wood pellet and biorefinery industries. The challenges involve dealing with species that are not currently being used and with a greater mixture of species. More plantation wood could involve increased porosity and lower strength because of increased proportion of earlywood. The wood may also have increased or more variable moisture content as a result of efforts to reduce drying costs.

Wood products volume should continue to increase especially if engineered wood products replace other building materials for multi-story buildings and if there are sufficient housing starts. One challenge could be in bonding wood to other materials if glulam or laminated veneer lumber start using layers of stronger polymers or composites for greater strength. There also might be markets for bonding to modified wood, such as acetylated wood or heat-treated wood.”

Challenges in our changing forests and in changing construction practices will keep Frihart and his team busy for years to come as they find ways to use their adhesive research to adjust to change and best utilize our natural resources.



An Evolutionary History of Oriented Strandboard


New house construction with OSB underlayment.

A new FPL report, by retired Wood Technologist John I. Zerbe, Supervisory Research Materials Engineer Zhiyong Cai, and retired Economist George B. Harpole gives us the story behind a product that we all use and take for granted every day.

An Evolutionary History of Oriented Strandboard (OSB) tells us that historically, logging and wood processing residues offered a utilization challenge for those who harvested and manufactured wood products. Logging operations typically left stumps, tapered log butts, tree tops, and limbs for forest fires to remove or to compost into bed­ding for destructive forest insects.

Even after the delivery of logs to a sawmill or plywood plant, residue materials have represented up to 60% of the log volumes delivered. Thus, commercial efforts have attempted to utilize as much of these residue volumes as possible with production of char­coal, poultry bedding, and heating fuels. Forest fires, tepee burners, and burn piles, however, have often provided a quick answer for getting rid of the surplus accumulations of forest and processing residues. Today, with the increased use of logging residues and wood chips for production of OSB panels, about 80% of the wood volume removed from the forest is now processed into marketable products and tepee burners no longer exist for getting rid of processing residues.

The pathway to OSB production appears to have started in the 1920s with production of hardboards from pulp mats that were produced from wood chips. This was the begin­ning for producing composite panel products from wood residue types of materials. Following hardboard production and skipping the pulping step for producing hardboards, the utilization of waste materials was increased in the United States in the 1940s by the production of nonstructural and appearance grades of particleboards. Even as a nonstructural product, the particleboard made in the United States was new compared with plywood.

Manufacturing OSB.

Manufacturing OSB.

But with the decline in the availability of timber suitable for plywood production in the 1970s, the development of technologies for production of structural types of particleboards quickly became a top priority for wood products research. As technology advance­d various products were produced along the way until researchers developed the oriented strandboard or OSB panels we speak of today.

Ideas for particleboard originated in Germany in the 1930s, and the prod­uct yield from harvested trees was only about 40%. Today, with increased use of wood chips and sawdust, logging residues have been reduced to less than 10%, with little to no processing residues to dispose of. OSB is ubiquitous because OSB panels have been essentially a problem-free new commodity wood product. Perhaps no other new wood product has ever been so problem free as OSB com­posite panels.