Cell Phones Made with Wood? New video let's you see it, believe it!

According to a Scientific American article, Americans dispose of approximately 130 million cell phones each year.  Consumers upgrade their cellphones every 18 months, on average, and the waste created by these discarded phones produces heaps of environmentally toxic material.

A cellulose nanofibril computer chip rests on a leaf. Photo: Yei Hwan Jung, Wisconsin Nano Engineering Device Laboratory

A cellulose nanofibril computer chip rests on a leaf. Photo: Yei Hwan Jung, Wisconsin Nano Engineering Device Laboratory

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) recently collaborated with University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) engineers to develop an innovative device in hopes of decreasing the toxic waste created by mobile phones.  A video recently produced by the UW explains how scientists worked to replace the support layer of a cell phone’s computer chip with cellulose nanofibrils (CNF), a completely biodegradable material made from wood.

Dr. Zhiyong Cai, a research materials engineer at FPL, co-authored the study, and says his team was able to compress the nanocellulose, or wood fibers, into a thin film, resulting in a resilient, sturdy, safer material.

“My dream is one day people will pull out a cellphone, maybe 20 percent of the materials are made out of wood,” Cai said. “That’s going to be awesome. That’s my dream.”

The majority of wireless devices contain gallium arsenide microwave chips and other substances that are highly toxic to the environment.  According to Cai, the electronic industry is looking for greener, more sustainable alternatives to these chemicals.  He and his research team hope the newly developed CNF chip can help.

Scientists say the newly developed film can perform as well as the original chips. See the promise of this innovation for yourself in the video below.

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta

The Latest and Greatest: FPL's NewsLine Hits the Web!

FPL researchers are hard at work discovering the amazing possibilities wood presents to make our lives safer and better. You can read all about what they’ve been up to in our quarterly newsletter, NewsLine.

newsline-2015-2-thumbIn this issue, you’ll learn about the importance of fasteners in keeping your deck safe, research on wood bridges, a new demonstration house, recycling preservative-treated wood, the amazing things we can do in our new pressure treatment plant, and much more.

Past issues of NewsLine can be found on FPL’s website.

If you’d like to have NewsLine delivered right to your inbox, simply send an email request to mailroom_forest_products_laboratory@fs.fed.us

We hope you enjoy this issue and wish you a wonderful holiday season.

-The Newsline Team

Timber Turn-Ins: Disposing of Preservative-Treated Wood

We all know where to recycle our empty bottles, cardboard boxes, and plastic packaging, but where does preservative treated wood go?

Treated wood is not listed as a hazardous waste under Federal law, and it can be disposed of in any waste management facility authorized under State and local law to manage such material. State and local jurisdictions may have additional regulations that impact the use, reuse, and disposal of treated wood and treated-wood construction waste, and users should check with State and local authorities for any special regulations relating to treated wood.

FPL's Steve Halverson working in the pressure treatment facility.

FPL’s Steve Halverson working in the lab’s pressure treatment facility—but where will this treated wood end up?

Treated wood must NOT be burned in open fires or in stoves, fireplaces or residential boilers, however, because the smoke and ashes may contain toxic chemicals. Treated wood from commercial and industrial uses, for example, from construction sites, may be burned only in commercial or industrial incinerators in accordance with State and Federal regulations.

Spent railroad ties treated with creosote and utility poles treated with pentachlorophenol can be burned in properly equipped facilities to generate electricity. As fuel costs and energy demands increase, disposal of treated wood in this manner is becoming more attractive, however, it poses more challenges with wood treated with heavy metals (which remain in the ash for further processing).

Researchers have demonstrated that wood treated with heavy metals can be chipped or flaked and reused to form durable panel products or wood-cement composites.

Techniques for extraction and reuse of the metals from treated wood have also been proposed, including acid extraction, fungal degradation, bacterial degradation, steam explosion, or some combination of these techniques. All of these approaches show some potential, but none are currently economical. In most situations, landfill disposal remains the least expensive option.

Reuse of treated wood may be a viable alternative to landfill disposal, and in many situations, treated wood removed from its original application retains sufficient durability and structural integrity. Generally, regulatory agencies recognize that treated wood can be reused in a manner that is consistent with its original intended end use. The biggest obstacle however is the lack of an efficient process for collecting and sorting treated wood.

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, has 16,000 vacant homes. Reclaiming materials through deconstruction and establishing market outlets can create value where not currently exists.

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, has 16,000 vacant homes. Reclaiming materials through deconstruction and establishing market outlets can create value where not currently exists.

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) hope to change this in the future. Pilot studies have already been conducted to develop cost-effective methods to collect, sort, and reuse wood (including treated wood) from urban areas. In addition to conserving resources and helping the environment, these methods have the added benefit of stimulating local economies with new jobs and industries.

Disposing of treated wood in a responsible way may not be as simple as a trip to your local recycling center, but it is still an important part in the life-cycle of the material that must be considered to ensure wood remains a sustainable, environmentally friendly resource.

Lights, Camera, Action! Discover Wisconsin Films at FPL

A film crew from Discover Wisconsin, a television program showcasing the many treasures of the Badger State, visited the Forest Products Laboratory this week as part of their America’s Dairyland series.  This series takes a look at Wisconsin’s largest and most important industry, the dairy industry.

A film crew from Discover Wisconsin interviews FPL engineer John Hunt.

A film crew from Discover Wisconsin interviews FPL engineer John Hunt, far right.

So, what does this have to do with forest products?

A key component of the dairy industry is, well, cows. And cows produce a lot of milk, but they also produce a lot of waste. That’s right, good old fashioned manure. FPL engineer John Hunt has found a way to make composite panels from cow manure mixed with other materials, such as recycled paper or cardboard.

As you can see, the Discover Wisconsin crew dug right in, getting down and dirty with this research project.

Discover Wisconsin host Eric Paulsen isn't afraid to get his hands dirty.

Discover Wisconsin host Eric Paulsen isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

But it’s really not so bad. The manure Hunt uses has gone through a process called anaerobic digestion, in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The process reduces the manure to raw fiber (and produces energy as seen in this USDA video) which is not unlike other natural fibers used in composite products.

The resulting product is strong, lightweight, recyclable, biodegradable, and incredibly versatile. A similar panel product (sans manure) has found considerable success through FPL partner Noble Environmental Technologies (NET). NET produces a recycled panel product based on Hunt’s research called ECOR, which was recently touted for its use in building the first 100% sustainable Hollywood studio set.

We here at FPL had a great time with the Discover Wisconsin crew, and are excited to see the results. The episode is scheduled to air in June, so stay tuned…


Women’s History Month: FPL Remembers Marguerite Sykes

Is paper one of the first things that comes to mind when you think about forest products? FPL has been at the forefront of developing innovative and environmentally friendly methods for producing this ubiquitous product. Chemist Marguerite Sykes, who worked in FPL’s pilot plant from 1971 until her retirement in 2002, was a key player in paper pulping research and development.


Marguerite Sykes makes handsheets of paper for evaluation in the paper test laboratory by using experimental pulps. (1980s)

The challenge for FPL scientists has been to economically and sustainably increase the yield of pulp from wood. FPL developed a pulping process that significantly increased pulp yield and allowed use of many underutilized hardwoods. Research at FPL also improved the sulfate (kraft) pulping process so that many softwoods could be used in paper making. These practices have extended timber supply and enhanced forest management.

During her tenure at FPL, Sykes worked on many interdisciplinary teams and co-authored nearly 60 papers. In an interview with the University of Wisconsin U.S. Forest Products Lab Centennial Oral History Project, Sykes speaks with passion for that work: “I think everything I worked on the last fifteen years [was] extraordinarily exciting and I think they were kind of breakthrough topics [such as how] to replace the chemicals for pulping and bleaching and recycling with more environmentally sound methods like enzymes or hydrogen peroxide for bleaching. And so everything was new, and although some people had been doing it, none of these techniques were being used commercially. So it was just kind of ground work on some of these things that made it very exciting.”

Sykes speaks more about how this work came to be. From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, “recycling became big just because landfills were being filled so rapidly,” and people threw out an enormous amount of paper. In addition to recycling work, Sykes felt that existing recycling processes used an excess of chemicals that were “very harmful to the [effluent] waters that came out of the mill.” These chemicals, she says, were defeating any environmental benefits. For this reason, Sykes and others “started using enzymes for de-inking, and that too is an innovative idea.”

Sykes also talks about making handsheets, where in the test lab, “you slurry the pulp and there is a special instrument of sheet mold that you make a hand sheet and all the tests are brightness, how white it is, how strong it is, how easy it tears go back to the basic hand sheet.”

Paper. It’s all around us. FPL thanks this innovative and enthusiastic scientist for her work in improving paper production.