Renewable Energy Flooring Takes a Step Forward at Union South

The University of Wisconsin released the following article by Will Cushman about the advancement of a project the Forest Products Laboratory has been a collaborator on. Read on to see how simply walking on a wood floor can generate electricity!

Visitors to UW–Madison’s Union South walk across a section of floor designed and installed by College of Engineering researchers to capture the energy of footsteps and turn it into usable electricity. Photo: Adrienne Nienow

As thousands of visitors each day walk across a new flooring installation in UW–Madison’s Union South this fall, they might not realize they’re participating in what could very well represent a leap into the future of renewable energy production.

A research team led by Xudong Wang, a University of Wisconsin–Madison professor of materials science and engineering, in collaboration with the UW–Madison Grainger Institute for Engineering, has installed a high-tech flooring prototype that harvests the energy of footsteps and converts it into electricity. Continue reading

Wood for Energy Focus of May “Update”

fpmuupdateThe latest Update from the Forest Products Laboratory’s Forest Products Marketing Unit (FPMU) is now available!

The May 2016 Update focuses on wood for heat and power. The Update reveals the winners of the National Wood Stove Competition and outlines the accomplishments of 21 state wood energy teams. It also includes exciting news about a new tribal sawmill operation that runs on biomass, as well as a calendar of upcoming classes, events, and workshops.

If you would like to receive the FPMU Update via email, send a message to asarnecki@fs.fed.us to be added to the distribution list.

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.

 

Set Free the Cellulose! Enhancing Biorefinery Economics through Ionic Liquid Pretreatment

As the most abundant biopolymers on earth, cellulose and lignin form the building blocks for trees and other plants. For centuries the durable, renewable benefits of wood have helped provide shelter and energy for people across the globe. Using trees such as Loblolly pine and other lignocellulosic biomass like wheat straw and Miscanthus – as renewable, plentiful, non-food and non-petroleum resources – can help reduce dependence on oil products by supplementing traditional gasoline supplies with liquid biofuels.

Yelle

Daniel Yelle, a research forest products technologist at FPL

One of the biggest challenges of converting wood-to-energy is releasing the sugars within the lignin itself. Daniel Yelle, a research forest products technologist at the Forest Products Laboratory says lignin is recalcitrant, meaning it does not break down very easily. Yelle has been working with a team of researchers to unlock the recalcitrant nature of lignin in an effort to improve refinery efficiencies in the production process for advanced biofuels. Their research has been published in the scientific journal Green Chemistry.

Higher plants such as trees, says Yelle, contain cell walls that are rich in lignin and complex sugars – polysaccharides like cellulose. However, cellulose is naturally entrapped in a matrix of lignin. Cellulose is the ideal biopolymer for biofuel production, says Yelle, “because of its simplistic long-chain glucose structure” but the separation of the cellulose from its lignin counterpart typically involves harsh chemical pretreatments. These chemicals may release the cellulose to a certain degree but, says Yelle, “make the remaining lignin even more recalcitrant.” Overcoming pretreatment barriers would help make the biochemical conversion process more efficient and thus more appealing for commercial renewable energy interests.

Yelle and colleagues’ research analyzes lignin following an ionic liquid pretreatment. Ionic liquids, says Yelle, are used to more easily dissolve the lignin that directly surrounds the desired polysaccharides. The non-toxic and recyclable ionic liquid used in this study, says Yelle, was able to more effectively disrupt the lignin, allowing for its extraction in a more native-state, as compared to previous pretreatment strategies. The subsequent use of enzymes to breakdown the polysaccharides into simple sugars is thus more effective. Furthermore, says Yelle, the size of the lignin polymer that is removed can be customized and routed into different product streams and help improve biorefinery economics.

LigninPretreatment_Yelle_4web

Above, a representation of the ionic liquid pretreatment process for converting biomass to sugars suitable for manufacturing liquid biofuels.

Converting Beetle-Killed Trees into Renewable Energy

The spread mountain pine and other beetles is causing significant damage to U.S. forests, especially across the American West. Various beetles, including mountain pine, western bark, southern pine, and spruce, kill millions of trees across North America every year.

In early 2012, FPL was instrumental in developing a framework for handling beetle-killed trees. More recently, FPL researchers have been working on specific solutions for how to use common western tree species such as lodgepole pine in biofuels development and thus making the most of beetle-killed trees.

This clip from USDA explains how new on-the-ground projects are targeting large swaths of beetle-killed trees for removal and conversion into biomass for renewable energy.