FPL researcher Robert J. Moon contributes to “milestone” nanocellulose research

Robert J. Moon is a materials research engineer for the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) stationed at Purdue University. Moon and his colleagues study the smallest known particles of wood: nanocellulose. The Purdue-FPL partnership builds on the nanotechnology infrastructure and expertise at Purdue University Discovery Park and the wood science expertise from FPL researchers such as Moon.

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Cellulose nanoparticles as viewed through an electron microscope. Wood at the nanoscale is extremely strong and light weight making it an excellent addition to renewable composite materials.

Dr. Moon is a member of the Birck Nanotechnology Center and part of the team investigating the underlying science and technologies of nanodimensional characteristics of wood. Materials at the nanoscale have different properties than those at the human scale. When wood nanomaterials are examined, for example, they exhibit qualities such as high stiffness with light weight and strength characteristics similar to Kevlar.

Recent discoveries regarding nanocellulose will be published in the December issue of the journal CelluloseR&D Magazine lists the primary author as Purdue doctoral student Fernando L. Dri, with co-authors including Louis G. Hector Jr., of the Chemical Sciences and Materials Systems Laboratory at General Motors Research and Development Center; Robert J. Moon of FPL; and Pablo D. Zavattieri, assistant professor of civil engineering at Purdue.

These findings “represent a milestone in understanding the fundamental mechanical behavior of the cellulose nanocrystals.” Cellulose used in nanotechnology applications could come from many different sources including “trees, plants, algae, ocean-dwelling organisms called tunicates, and bacteria that create a protective web of cellulose.”

“Cellulose nanomaterials are inherently renewable, sustainable, biodegradable and carbon-neutral like the sources from which they were extracted,” says Moon. Such “green” nanomaterials, Moon says, “have the potential to be processed at industrial-scale quantities and at low cost compared to other materials.”

This research announcement follows another recent nanocellulose highlight, this one from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, demonstrating the the “potential of wood- based nanotechnology to strengthen rural America by creating sustainable jobs and adding timber value while also creating conservation opportunities in working forests.”