“So CLT is available now. Cellulose nanomaterials are about five years away. In 10 years, new products from the three major polymers of wood. Beyond 10 years, use your imagination. Anything can happen.” – Dr. World Nieh
When thinking about about wood, it’s easy to get caught up in the big picture: all-wood high-rises, CLT panels, Wood Energy. But sometimes, to really make a breakthrough in a field, you have to think small. In Dr. World Nieh’s case, that means thinking on the nano-level.
Dr. World Nieh is the Forest Products National Program Lead in the U.S. Forest Service’s R&D Deputy Area. He also represents the Forest Service in the National Nanotechnology Initiative, co-chairs the Biomass R&D Board inter-agency Conversions Workgroup, and co-chairs the inter-agency Sustainable Nano-manufacturing Signature Initiative.
These days, Dr. Nieh’s work is focused on developing new uses for wood such as cellulose nanomaterial technologies and low-rise buildings and bridges. But let’s take a step back and define what we mean when we say cellulose nanomaterial. Cellulose is an organic compound often used in the production of paperboard and paper that the USDA Forest Service defines as:
“Cellulose nanomaterials are primarily isolated from trees and other organisms; are naturally occurring polymeric materials that have demonstrated great promise for commercial applications across an array of industrial sectors; are renewable and environmentally sustainable; and have the potential to be produced in large volumes (i.e., millions of tons per year).
The commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials has the capacity to create hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs, particularly in rural America. The United States is currently in a good position to become a leading global source of commercial cellulose nanomaterials innovation, production, and use”
Some of the benefits of cellulose nanomaterials, as outlined by Dr. Nieh, include:
- – Better potential to control flow properties when compared to synthetic materials (such as when used with pen ink).
- – Safe for human body use in biological applications.
- – Light weight yet strong (particularly of interest in the automobile industry.
As indicated in the Forest Service definition, Cellulose nanomaterials has the potential to be used in a variety of fields, a point which Dr. Nieh elaborated in his interview with Pallet Enterprises.
“Nanotechnology has become one of the hottest areas of research and development in wood utilization globally,” says Dr. World Nieh. “For example, in Japan, a certain type of cellulose nanomaterial is already used in gel ink for ballpoint pens as a thickener because it performs better than existing chemical products. Oil drilling (for mud removal and maintain well pressure), fruit coating (improve shelf life), concrete (improve strength), packaging (better surface quality for printing, better barrier properties) and products for the food industry (nontoxic) are a few examples of large volume cellulose nanomaterials markets. In 10 years, we may be able to lower the cost of producing cellulosic liquid transportation fuel so everyone in the supply chain can make a profit.”
Dr. Nieh earned his Ph.D. from Mississippi State University, M.S. from Virginia Tech as well as studying at the Polymer Science Department of the University of Southern Mississippi. He is a member of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Forest Products Society (FPS), the Society of Wood Science and Technology (SWST) and the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI).
For his ongoing work to help guide the vision of the U.S. Forest Service Forest and his ongoing research into potential long term breakthroughs in the wood industry, we name Dr. World Nieh our Feature Innovator of the Month!
Dr. World Nieh does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.