Senator Tammy Baldwin tours FPL

U. S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) visited the Forest Products Laboratory on Friday, August 9th, to meet with FPL leadership and learn more about how research at the Lab benefits the American public.

baldwin1FPL Director Michael Rains welcomes Senator Baldwin in the Centennial Research Facility lobby and provides an overview of FPL research.

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Assistant Director Michael Ritter and Sen. Baldwin take a look inside the Lab’s one-of-a-kind weathering chamber and discuss wood durability research.
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In the composites research area, materials engineer Ron Sabo (left) and Assistant Director Ted Wegner (right) explain how composites can use low-value or waste material to create high-quality wood-based products.
baldwin5In the Engineering Mechanics and Remote Sensing Laboratory the group takes a look at the strong floor and discusses how researchers use this unique space to gain a better understanding of the physical properties of wood and wood products. (L to R, Assistant Director Mike Ritter, Director Michael Rains, Senator Tammy Baldwin)
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FPL chemist Alan Rudie explains the wonders of wood-based nanotechnology to Senator Baldwin in the Nanocellulose Pilot Plant.

New FPL Director Announced

Michael Rains

FPL Director Michael T. Rains

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced today that Michael T. Rains has accepted the position as Director of the Forest Products Laboratory, effective immediately. Rains has served as FPL’s Acting Director since March, 2012. He is also the director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and will continue to lead both organizations.

“Michael’s experience, leadership, and unflagging passion for forestry and the wood products field make him the perfect candidate for running our Forest Products Lab,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Four decades into his career, there’s no one more qualified, committed or energetic about the issues.”

“It is such an honor for me to be part of this national treasure,” said Rains. “I appreciate the confidence of our Chief, employees of the Forest Products Laboratory, and many others.  While I have been Acting Director of the Forest Products Laboratory for about 19 months, this formal designation of Director reconfirms our current direction and allows us the momentum needed for the future.”

Rains’ 45-year career with the U.S. Forest Service began as a wildland firefighter for California. He has since served the agency in many capacities, including Director of Information Resources Management and Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry.

With a strong professional background in natural resources management and science, program development, and organizational design, Rains brings a wealth of experience to the Forest Products Laboratory.

Rains holds a BS in Forest Management and a MS in Watershed Management from Humboldt State University, and Master of Education in Secondary Education from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He has also studied economics and labor relations, public administration, and government operations at various universities.

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FPL Assistant Director Honored with Hall of Fame Induction

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) Assistant Director Ted Wegner has been selected for induction into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame for his contributions and leadership impacts in research and technology development.

FPL Assistant Director Ted Wegner

FPL Assistant Director Ted Wegner

Wegner’s 36-year career with FPL has focused on a wide range of efforts, including bioenergy, recycling, forest biorefinery, and nanotechnology. He attributes this honor to the support he’s had along the way, both within the Forest Service and the paper industry as a whole.

“I am extremely honored to be selected as an inductee into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame and to be among those considered as having made noteworthy contributions,” says Wegner. “This is only possible because of the many dedicated and competent men and women within our broad paper industry community I have had the privilege to work with.  I thank the USDA Forest Service for giving me the freedom to focus my efforts on forward-looking scientific and technology developments, and I thank the industry for embracing new ideas.”

Wegner has served as Assistant Director at FPL for 24 years, during which he worked tirelessly to promote the image of the forest products industry as a critical contributor and major partner in improving the health and well-being of America’s forests.  He provided leadership in tackling important problems and opportunities facing the pulp and paper industry and creatively showed how solving such problems is of critical importance to the Forest Service in sustainably managing healthy and diverse forests.

“Ted Wegner has been a visionary leader in the world of pulp and paper research and beyond,” says FPL Acting Director Michael Rains. “Ted is truly a benchmark for public service, his contributions impacting countless lives and setting a shining example for the Forest Service family. His induction into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame is a well-deserved testament to his extraordinary dedication.”

The Paper Industry International Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization that recognizes people who have made preeminent contributions to the paper industry worldwide. The induction ceremony will be held Oct. 3, 2013 in Appleton, Wis.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack tours the FPL

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FPL Leadership provided a summary of recent accomplishments to Secretary Vilsack and staff.

Led by Acting Director Michael Rains, the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) recently welcomed USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for a tour through its unique and growing set of research facilities. Basic and applied research at FPL supports a number of USDA and Forest Service objectives, including forest management and restoration, the wise use of forest resources, job creation, and expanding economic opportunities through public-private partnerships on a national scale.

Throughout his tour, Secretary Vilsack talked with lab leadership about FPL’s diverse and innovative research efforts. Project leaders used the opportunity to field questions from the Secretary and explain work ranging from wood preservation and durability to advances in “green” building strategies and technology, use of beetle-killed trees, work on historic timber bridges, and advances in nanocellulose-related materials and applications.

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Supervisory Microbiologist Carol Clausen briefs Secretary Vilsack on FPL’s Moisture Test Facility.

In FPL’s unique weather testing facility, project leader Carol Clausen described how wall assemblies can be tested for a range of harsh conditions, from heavy rain and extreme heat to high humidity and strong winds. “Developing durable building materials for green construction is a win-win situation for the Nation’s forests and the American people,” Clausen told Vilsack. “Utilizing beetle-killed trees to create value-added products, improves forest health, reduces the wildfire threat, and creates jobs.”

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Supervisory Engineer Bob Ross discusses recent FPL research on a 2,500-year-old wooden mummy coffin.

In the Engineering Mechanics and Remote Sensing Laboratory, project leader Bob Ross brought out the big gun, an air-powered debris launcher used to develop protective safe-rooms in hurricane and tornado-prone areas. The Secretary watched as this unique air-cannon blasted an eight-foot 2×4 board into a test wall of cross-laminated material at over 100 miles per hour.

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Supervisory Research Chemist Alan Rudie tours Secretary Vilsack through FPL’s new Nanocellulose Pilot Plant and shows nanocellulose samples.

In the world renowned Nanocellulose Pilot Plant, project leader Alan Rudie guided the Secretary through some of FPL’s most advanced equipment. Very strong and extremely versatile, nanocellulose materials can be used for a variety of applications including ballistic glass; small, powerful transistors; and heat-resistant additives for concrete, among many other uses.

Zhiyong Cai, project leader for FPL’s engineered composite science unit, demonstrated uses for cellulose nanofibrils material in bio-degradable electronic parts, high-performance insolation aerogel material, and regenerated cellulose braided reinforced fabric.

“The Secretary was very interested in nanotechnology applications in forest products research,” said Cai. “He was impressed with the impact that cellulose nanomaterial could bring to not only the forest products industry, but also electronics and other industries.”You can view more photos of the Secretary’s visit, including a slow-motion video of the hurricane-force 2×4 hitting a cross-laminated wall assembly, at FPL’s main site.

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By James T. Spartz, FPL Public Affairs Specialist.

Nanocellulose Pilot Plant is “A Game-Changer”

Industry leaders, government officials, and Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) scientists recently celebrated the opening of FPL’s new Nanocellulose Pilot Plant, a production facility for renewable, forest-based nanomaterials. The $1.7 million pilot plant, the first of its kind in the United States, positions FPL as the country’s leading producer of forest-based nanomaterials.

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USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman talks with FPL chemical engineer Rick Reiner during the grand opening of the FPL Nanocellulose Pilot Plant.

Industry representatives from IBM, Lockheed Martin, Ecolab, the pulp and paper industry, and various universities met with keynote speaker Harris Sherman, USDA Natural Resources and Environment Under Secretary, and FPL Acting Director Michael Rains, among others, to discuss opportunities for advancing wood-based nanotechnology into new markets. The new facility will bolster an emerging market for wood-derived renewable nanomaterials, helping to spur forest-based job growth and contribute an estimated $600 billion to the American economy by 2020.

“Forest Service science touches almost everyone in every way, every day,” said Rains during a talk to industry leaders, scientists, and other Federal staff. “Forest Service research is now creating innovative science and technology required to keep forests in forestry,” said Rains. “From abundant water; clean air; better, safer houses; helping keep wood bats in Major League Baseball; to those sticky stamps that you put on your envelopes when you enjoy mailing a letter… Now, we are about to embark on a new, exciting adventure called wood-based nanotechnology.”

“It’s a game-changer,” said Rains about the great potential of the FPL pilot plant. Rains has high hopes that nanocellulose research can use woody material removed from overgrown forests to reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfire while adding value to biomass from forest thinning projects. FPL’s new facility will aid in the commercialization of nanocellulosic materials by providing researchers and early adopters with working quantities of both cellulose nanocrystals and nanofibrils.

Nanocellulose-based materials can be stronger than Kevlar fiber and provide high strength with low weight. Such attributes have attracted the interest of the Department of Defense for use in lightweight armor and ballistic glass as well as companies in the automotive, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, and medical device industries.

Echoing Rains, Under Secretary Harris Sherman also called the pilot plant a “game changer,” describing the exciting advances being made in the field of wood nanotechnology at the FPL.

“I am excited by this bold and new frontier,” said Sherman in his keynote address. “We’re moving to a whole new world.”

But in a time of tight budgets, the Forest Service alone cannot advance nanotechnology, said Sherman. “We need to build our public/private partnerships.”

Sherman stressed that he welcomes discussion with industry leaders about expanding cooperation at the Federal level to develop effective partnerships. “My door is open… to talking about how we can expand at the Federal level our resources and commitment to what is occurring here today,” Sherman said. Such partnerships demonstrate how “we are all stepping to the plate, rolling up our sleeves, and putting our shoulder to the wheel.”

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By James T. Spartz, FPL Public Affairs Specialist