Researchers to Use Wood-infused Concrete in California Bridge

This transmission electron microscope shows cellulose nanocrystals, tiny structures derived from renewable sources that have been shown to increase strength of concrete. Image: Purdue Life Sciences Microscopy Center

Civil and Structural Engineer (CSE) Magazine recently published an article about an exciting advancement in the practical application of cellulose nanomaterials – using nanocellulose as an additive to concrete.

Purdue University researchers, who have been long-time partners of the Forest Products Laboratory, have been studying whether concrete is made stronger by infusing it with microscopic-sized nanocrystals from wood. Their research is now moving from the laboratory to the real world with a bridge that will be built in California this spring.

“Simply getting out there where people can actually drive on it, I think, is a huge step because you can’t just say it’s a lab curiosity at that point. It has real-world implications,” said Jeffrey Youngblood, a Purdue professor of materials engineering.

Read the full article here to find out how minuscule wood particles can make concrete stronger, and the many added benefits researchers are discovering through this project.

‘Shocking’ Discovery: Nanocellulose Can Turn Footsteps into Electricity

Many exciting developments have resulted from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) and the University of Wisconsin (UW) working together to find applications for nanocellulose. From computer chips made of wood to aerogels that could clean up oil spills, the technologies researchers dream up are fascinating.

This week, yet another discovery from this FPL/UW collaboration was unveiled: flooring that converts footsteps to usable energy.

The following is a press release from the UW on this newest development in the world of nanocellulose.

————————————————————-

Move over, solar: The next big renewable energy source could be at our feet

Flooring can be made from any number of sustainable materials, making it, generally, an eco-friendly feature in homes and businesses alike.

Now, flooring could be even more “green,” thanks to an inexpensive, simple method developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison materials engineers that allows them to convert footsteps into usable electricity.

Associate Professor Xudong Wang holds a prototype of the researchers’ energy harvesting technology, which uses wood pulp and harnesses nanofibers. The technology could be incorporated into flooring and convert footsteps on the flooring into usable electricity. Credit: Stephanie Precourt/UW-Madison

Associate Professor Xudong Wang holds a prototype of the researchers’ energy harvesting technology, which uses wood pulp and harnesses nanofibers. The technology could be incorporated into flooring and convert footsteps on the flooring into usable electricity. Credit: Stephanie Precourt/UW-Madison

Xudong Wang, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison, his graduate student Chunhua Yao, and their collaborators published details of the advance Sept. 24 in the journal Nano Energy.

The method puts to good use a common waste material: wood pulp. The pulp, which is already a common component of flooring, is partly made of cellulose nanofibers. They’re tiny fibers that, when chemically treated, produce an electrical charge when they come into contact with untreated nanofibers.

When the nanofibers are embedded within flooring, they’re able to produce electricity that can be harnessed to power lights or charge batteries. And because wood pulp is a cheap, abundant and renewable waste product of several industries, flooring that incorporates the new technology could be as affordable as conventional materials.

While there are existing similar materials for harnessing footstep energy, they’re costly, nonrecyclable, and impractical at a large scale.

Wang’s research centers around using vibration to generate electricity. For years, he has been testing different materials in an effort to maximize the merits of a technology called a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG). Triboelectricity is the same phenomenon that produces static electricity on clothing. Chemically treated cellulose nanofibers are a simple, low-cost and effective alternative for harnessing this broadly existing mechanical energy source, Wang says.

The UW-Madison team’s advance is the latest in a green energy research field called “roadside energy harvesting” that could, in some settings, rival solar power — and it doesn’t depend on fair weather. Researchers like Wang who study roadside energy harvesting methods see the ground as holding great renewable energy potential well beyond its limited fossil fuel reserves.

“Roadside energy harvesting requires thinking about the places where there is abundant energy we could be harvesting,” Wang says. “We’ve been working a lot on harvesting energy from human activities. One way is to build something to put on people, and another way is to build something that has constant access to people. The ground is the most-used place.”

Heavy traffic floors in hallways and places like stadiums and malls that incorporate the technology could produce significant amounts of energy, Wang says. Each functional portion inside such flooring has two differently charged materials — including the cellulose nanofibers, and would be a millimeter or less thick. The floor could include several layers of the functional unit for higher energy output.

“So once we put these two materials together, electrons move from one to another based on their different electron affinity,” Wang says.

The electron transfer creates a charge imbalance that naturally wants to right itself but as the electrons return, they pass through an external circuit. The energy that process creates is the end result of TENGs.

Wang says the TENG technology could be easily incorporated into all kinds of flooring once it’s ready for the market. Wang is now optimizing the technology, and he hopes to build an educational prototype in a high-profile spot on the UW-Madison campus where he can demonstrate the concept. He already knows it would be cheap and durable.

“Our initial test in our lab shows that it works for millions of cycles without any problem,” Wang says. “We haven’t converted those numbers into year of life for a floor yet, but I think with appropriate design it can definitely outlast the floor itself.”

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation holds the patent to the technology. Other authors on the paper include Zhiyong Cai of the Forest Products Laboratory and UW-Madison graduate students Alberto Hernandez and Yanhao Yu. The Forest Products Laboratory and National Science Foundation provided funding for the research.

—Will Cushman

 

Listen Up! Small Talk About Big Ideas in Nanocellulose

Jefferson Public Radio recently aired a segment on the many possibilities nanocellulose could bring to their local community in rural northern California. The station’s listeners live in the vicinity of a feasibility study led by the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL). The study is looking at building a nanocellulose production facility and what that could mean for jobs, economics, and forest health.

Listen here as FPL Assistant Director Alan Rudie and Dan Blessing, a natural resources staff officer from the Klamath National Forest, describe the pursuit of nanocellulose technology and how it can benefit forests and people alike.

FPL’s nanocellulose pilot plant, housed within a larger laboratory research area.

The feasibility study is looking at building a larger version of FPL’s nanocellulose pilot plant.

Biorenewable Bumpers: Scientists Create Stronger, Greener Auto Parts

Scientists at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have teamed up with researchers at Clemson University to give auto parts a wooden upgrade.

The study’s lead expert, Clemson University Assistant Professor Srikanth Pilla, is converting wood to cellulosic nanomaterials, or tiny rod-like structures derived from trees, with help from FPL Materials Research Engineer Craig Clemons and a $481,000 grant from the USDA.

Srikanth Pilla, left, works with a graduate student in their lab. (Photo credit: Clemson University)

Srikanth Pilla, left, works with a graduate student in their lab. (Photo credit: Clemson University)

Researchers are using the cellulosic nanomaterials, measuring at 20,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, to develop composite material that can be shaped into bumpers and fenders with improved strength.

“They will absorb the energy and just stay intact,” Pilla said. “You won’t have to replace them because there will be no damage at all. Parts made with current materials might resist one impact. These will resist three or four impacts.”

The cellulosic nanomaterials will also ensure the parts are biorenewable, making them suitable for a compost facility once their drive is done.

As the leading wood research facility in the nation, FPL is accustomed to sharing knowledge and resources when wood is in the picture, and this time, the lab has provided Pilla with the essential component to the study.

“We’ll be producing the cellulosic nanomaterials, which are the most fundamental structural elements that you can get out of wood and pulp fibers,” Clemons said. “We’ll also be lending our more than 25 years of experience in creating composites and plastics from wood-derived materials to the project.”

The popularity and demand for biorenewable auto parts could rise in the U.S. if, like in the European Union, the nation develops standards on how much of a vehicle is required to be recyclable and reusable once it has driven its last mile.

Pilla and Clemons’ research is yet another step in creating sustainable forest products for a greener, cleaner future.

To learn more about the project, take a look at the full news release from Clemson.

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta

Yreka Hoping for a ‘Eureka!’ Moment: Small California Town Site of Nanocellulose Study

hp photosmart 720Yreka, California, (population 7,605) is the site of a feasibility study looking at building a nanocellulose production facility. It’s a town surrounded by forests but hit hard by mill closings over the past 25 years.

The Redding Record Searchlight newspaper recently published a story that highlights the local perspective of being involved in the study and what a production facility could mean for jobs, economics, and forest health in this rural Northern California area.

Local officials are enthusiastic about the possibilities. “They are interested in being a little bit more of a part of the future than of the past,” said Forest Products Laboratory supervisory research chemist Alan Rudie. Dr. Rudie is part of a team working on the study.

Everyone involved is eager to see what the future holds.