ORONO – When you hear the word ‘nano’ what do you think of: a small iPod or maybe a futuristic robot?
But when UMaine researchers think of ‘nano’ they think of wood, and the way they’re using it to possibly re-vamp the pulp industry in the Pine Tree State.
You know the saying: good things come in small packages. But we’re not just talking small – we’re talking nano.
“If you split any type of material into the smaller sizes you eventually get to the nano size,” said Mehdi Tajvidi, assistant professor of renewable nano materials at the University of Maine. “That’s where we are.”
To Professor Tajvidi, the word ‘nano’ refers to wood, not some science fiction creation.
He and his team of researchers at UMaine are working with tiny particles that make up the structure of wood, something they call ‘nano-cellulose.’
“It can basically bond different things together, especially wood particles and cellulose particles,” said Tajvidi.
Basically, they use the broken-down pieces to create something stronger and stiffer, like particle board.
But it can also be used as an adhesive to replace chemical-based glues in building products.
And thanks to a $250,000 grant, UMaine researchers can continue looking for new ways to use nano-cellulose.
“We are very hopeful by end of life of project… we will have been able to produce enough end products to take to end user and say, ‘hey this is what we have and what you can use in buildings,'” Tajvidi said.
They’re taking one of the first and oldest building materials and turning it into the future, using technology the Pine Tree State is already familiar with.
“Everybody’s talking about mill closures and everything which is a real life story,” said Tajvidi. “But the fact is that the technology to produce nano-cellulose is already here in Maine.”
This research is giving new life to one of the state’s dying industries.
“We have the infrastructure, we have the fiber source, 90% of this state is trees,” Tajvidi said. “The same mill producing pulp can be a little altered to produce nano-cellulose.”
It will still be 5-10 years before this material makes it way to your home. In the meantime, they’ll keep working on the small stuff.
After all, a little goes a long way.