U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a public-private partnership to rapidly advance the development of the first U.S. commercial facility producing cellulosic nanomaterial, a wood fiber broken down to the nanoscale. The partnership is between the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment) and the U.S. Forest Service.
“We believe in the potential of wood- based nanotechnology to strengthen rural America by creating sustainable jobs and adding timber value while also creating conservation opportunities in working forests,” said Vilsack. “This public- private partnership will develop high-tech outputs from the forest products sector, and promote the invention of renewable products that have substantial environmental benefits.”
For perspective, a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide. Materials at this scale have unique properties. Cellulosic nanomaterial has exceptional strength and considerably lighter weight when compared with materials it can replace. It is lower cost than similar nanomaterial and it is made from a renewable resource. Potential applications include ballistic glass replacements, body armor, auto and aerospace structural materials, flexible electronic circuits, solar panels and more.
The three-year partnership will promote cellulosic nanomaterial as a commercially viable enterprise by building on work done by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis. The partnership seeks to overcome technical barriers to large- scale wood-based nanotechnology processing, while filling gaps in the science and technology that are needed for commercialization. Initial funding comes from the Endowment and the Forest Service. The partnership is currently seeking additional public and private sector funding.
USDA, the Endowment, and the Forest Service have previously collaborated on numerous ventures: the potential of biotechnology to address forest health; technical advice given to African American forest landowners; and wood-to-energy projects that support the growth of jobs in rural America.
Together with partners, this new venture will:
- Emphasize the potential of wood- based nanotechnology for the economy and the environment.
- Overcome technical barriers to commercialization of wood- based nanotechnology.
- Demonstrate commitment to creating high paying jobs in rural America through value- added manufacturing and high value products.
- Showcase the commitment of USDA and the Forest Service to innovation.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.