FPL Researchers Pioneering Steps into a Sustainable Plastics Future

As the public focuses more on climate change and sustainability solutions, the numbers and facts can be staggering, nearly crippling to think about. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, and our fish seem to be drowning in plastic instead of thriving under the sea. A June 2020, National Geographic article that projected 600 million metric tons of plastic waste in the ocean by 2040 if global plastic habits don’t change.

Hearing these projections and statistics can be discouraging and scary.

Ronald Sabo
Engineered Composites Science
Research Materials Engineer

But fear not, people like Forest Products Laboratory’s (FPL) Ron Sabo and his team of researchers are looking up the mountain, seeing the goal of a sustainable-eco-plastic future at the top and taking on the challenge with the diligent steps needed to make that future a reality.

Continue reading

Register Now! Free Cellulose Nanomaterials Webinar

The Forest Products Society is offering a free webinar titled “Overview of Cellulose Nanomaterials and Nanocomposites” on Tuesday, October 6, 2015, at 1:30 p.m. EDT. Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) Research Materials Engineer Ronald Sabo will be presenting.

Ronald Sabo (left) will present the nano webinar. Here he explains a composites research project to USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie.

The one-hour webinar will provide an introduction to and overview of cellulose nanomaterials and nanocomposites. Production methods and properties of cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) and cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) will be described, and cellulose nanocomposites, their properties, and applications will be discussed. The enormous potential of these materials, as well as some of the associated challenges, will also be addressed in this webinar, which will provide a good foundation for anyone looking to begin research in this area or to incorporate these materials into products.

Sabo works in the Engineered Composites Sciences group at FPL. His research interests include cellulose nanomaterials and nanocomposites, “green” polymers and composites, and recycling and remediation of forest-based resources. He has authored over 50 publications, including peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and conference proceedings. Sabo obtained a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and Mathematics from Vanderbilt University and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Florida.

Register now for this free webinar and begin to explore the many possibilities of nanocellulose!

Key Research Publication: Short Cellulose Nanofibrils as Reinforcement in Polyvinyl Alcohol Fiber

A key FPL publication is Short Cellulose Nanofibrils as Reinforcement in Polyvinyl Alcohol Fiber by Ronald Sabo and Craig M. Clemons.

What is a nanofibril? Remembering that FPL is at the forefront of nanotechnology research, recall that nano means one billionth; for example, one nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or about the length that a fingernail grows in one second. A fibril is a fine fiber or filament.


Transmission electron microscopy image of (a cellulose nanofibril and (b short cellulose nanofibrils. The scale bar is 200 nm.

Cellulose nanofibril-based reinforcements constitute a new class of naturally sourced fiber-based reinforcements. Trees are one type of organism that forms nanofibrils and microfibrils from cellulose molecules to act as the main reinforcing elements within the organism. The high reinforcing potential of native crystalline cellulose within these fibrils led research cooperators from FPL and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to extract cellulose nanomaterials for use in composites.

Those researchers found some challenges to efficiently using cellulose nanomaterials as reinforcing fillers, and the use of water-soluble polymers is one way to avoid many of the challenges if they are carefully selected and appropriately used. One such polymer is polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), which is water-soluble, biodegradable, and biocompatible, and has been broadly investigated for applications including tissue scaffolding, filtration materials, membranes, and drug release. PVA is also used as a reinforcing fiber. Short cellulose nanofibrils (SCNFs) were mechanically isolated from bleached hardwood kraft pulp after being pretreated with enzymes and investigated as reinforcement for PVA fibers. These SCNFs are similar in appearance to cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) but do not require concentrated sulfuric acid for their preparation.

Further optimization of enzymatic pretreatment will reduce energy requirements, cost, and environmental footprint. Adding small amounts of the SCNFs aided in alignment of the polymer during fiber preparation and improved the performance of the fiber. This work opens the door to strengthening and improving engineered composite materials.