New Wood Product Launched with Help from FPL

With its more than 100 years of research on record, people often look to the FPL for answers when new questions about wood products arise. So FPL researchers were up to the challenge when Eastman Chemical Company approached them during the development of a new modified wood product.

In 2009, Eastman was developing a decking product by modifying Southern Pine through a chemical process called acetylation. Now marketed as Perennial Wood, the product has all the advantages of wood without its sensitivity to water.  Because the product is not traditional treated wood or a wood–plastic composite, however, developers were unsure about what types of adhesive would be most effective when needed.

Researchers at FPL have been studying how to bond wood products for decades. The expertise and equipment at the Lab, in addition to a history of successful public/private partnerships, made collaborating with Eastman a natural fit.

“Eastman was hoping to find an adhesive that was already on the market that would work well with their new product,” explains Chris Hunt, a research chemist at FPL. “So we worked with various adhesive suppliers, tested an array of formulas, and were able to make a recommendation for the most effective adhesive.”

Getting a solid answer to their question helped Eastman move their product into the marketplace.

“Research and testing conducted by FPL helped Eastman meet its goal of launching the complete Perennial Wood decking system at the same time,” said Ellen Turner, technical service and application development engineer for Perennial Wood. “Because modified wood is relatively new, we needed to test how various glues and adhesives would take to the wood. That’s where FPL was instrumental. Its research team identified the best alternative for bonding 1 by 4s together to create strong and crack-resistant railing posts, ensuring our products deliver the quality homeowners expect.”

According to Hunt, this partnership is a great example of government research benefiting the American public. “We were able to use our knowledge and facilities to assist a company that uses domestic materials and labor to create better products for the American public. FPL is here for the public, and partnerships like this showcase how our research works for you.”

Eastman Chemical Company, founded in Tennessee in 1920, is now a global producer of chemicals, fibers, and plastics that employs more than 10,000 people. Perennial Wood decking was officially launched in February 2012.

FPL Research Supports USDA’s $80 Million Biofuels Investment

By Rebecca Wallace, Public Affairs Specialist

Washington State University and University of Washington have each been awarded a five-year, $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help develop alternatives to petroleum-based fuels and chemicals. As a partner in the Washington State University (WSU)-led Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) will receive $1.1 million to pretreat woody biomass for conversion to aviation fuel.

“This is an opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and drive economic development in rural communities across America by building the framework for a competitively priced, American-made biofuels industry,” Vilsack said. “Public-private partnerships like these will drive our nation to develop a national biofuels economy that continues to help us grow and out-compete the rest of the world while moving our nation toward a clean-energy economy.”

NARA includes a broad consortium of scientists from universities, government laboratories and private industry. The WSU-led grant aims to address the urgent national need for a domestic biofuel alternative for U.S. commercial and military air fleets. NARA researchers envision developing a new, viable, aviation fuel industry using wood and wood waste.  The project also will focus on increasing the profitability of wood-based fuels through development of high-value, bio-based co-products to replace petrochemicals that are used in products such as plastics.

FPL research engineer JunYong Zhu will demonstrate his patent-pending technique, SPORL (Sulfite Pretreatment to Overcome Recalcitrance of Lignocellulose) in the NARA program. Zhu has successfully used SPORL on lodgepole pine woody biomass (juvenile wood with a high lignin content), but his contribution to NARA will be using SPORL on biomass of another softwood, Douglas-fir, grown by Weyerhaeuser.

SPORL was developed on the basis of sulfite pulping technology, which has been carried out at a large commercial scale for decades. By making use of existing equipment, processes, and knowledge of the pulp and paper industry, SPORL presents fewer technical barriers to building new plants or to retrofitting existing pulp mills to production of biofuels.  The process also reduces energy requirements and will address feedstock variability of bark, needles, and branches. This pretreatment process is an integral part of converting woody biomass to aviation fuel. The pretreated materials will be sent to Weyerhaeuser and Gevo for conversion to renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels, respectively.