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May 9, 2018

UMaine researcher gets $250K to advance 'nanofibril' building materials

Courtesy / University of Maine
Courtesy / University of Maine
Mehdi Tajvidi, an assistant professor of renewable nanomaterials at the University of Maine, has been awarded $250,000 to develop next-generation floor and wall products that utilize cellulose nanofibrils.

About the University of Maine

The University of Maine, founded in Orono in 1865, is the state's land grant and sea grant university. As Maine's flagship public university, UMaine has a statewide mission of teaching, research and economic development, and community service. It is among the most comprehensive higher education institutions in the Northeast and attracts students from Maine and 49 other states, and 67 countries. It currently enrolls 11,240 total undergraduate and graduate students who can directly participate in groundbreaking research working with world-class scholars. The University of Maine offers 35 doctoral programs and master's degrees in 85 fields; more than 90 undergraduate majors and academic programs; and one of the oldest and most prestigious honors programs in the United States. The university promotes environmental stewardship, with substantial efforts campus-wide aimed at conserving energy, recycling and adhering to green building standards in new construction.

Mehdi Tajvidi, an assistant professor of renewable nanomaterials at the University of Maine, has been awarded $250,000 to develop next-generation floor and wall products that utilize cellulose nanofibrils, the microscopic natural structural building units of wood that are biodegradable and possess incredible strength and bonding attributes.

Tajvidi's award from P3Nano — a public-private partnership founded by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the U.S. Forest Service — will be used to develop three next-generation CNF building materials — one of which is a scratch-, fire- and water-resistant flooring system made of CNF and cement.

Tajvidi is collaborating with the Washington-based Ceramic Cement Corp. (C3) to produce the eco-friendly, durable flooring product. C3, which produces high-end, fast-curing cement that sticks to wood, is contributing in-kind materials and expertise to the effort.

Two other building materials are being developed and tested by Tajvidi:

  • An alternative to traditional drywall made of plaster, other materials and additives. Tajvidi's version, which is made with CNF and wood particles, is described in a UMaine news release as lighter and a better insulator; Tajvidi plans to make the core fire resistant as well.
  • A lightweight interior wall covering system that's easy to mold into various shapes that's being created in a partnership with G-O Logic, a Belfast firm that makes advanced building products for the high-performance construction market.

FiberLean Technologies, a global producer of FiberLean products that combine CNF and minerals, has contributed $10,000 cash and $10,000 in-kind support toward implementation of the wall-covering product.

Long-term goal: Product commercialization

Courtesy / University of Maine
Courtesy / University of Maine
Products made with cellulose nanofibrils at the University of Maine.

In June, Tajvidi and several students from UMaine's Laboratory of Renewable Nanomaterials will take samples and panels of products to the TAPPI Nano 2018 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials in Madison, Wisc.

Three years ago, Tajvidi led a UMaine team that was awarded a $350,000 grant by P3Nano to use CNF as an eco-friendly binder for strong particleboard panels. Urea-formaldehyde currently is used as a binder and the U.S. Environmental Agency has classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen.

Tajvidi said the UMaine team has made significant strides with the project, including learning how to remove water from particleboard panels without using heat.

Challenges remain, though, according to the UMaine news release. Some of the adhesion and dewatering mechanisms in the process are unknown. And while CNF products have considerable market promise, Tajvidi said techniques and methodology need to be optimized so mass production and commercialization of CNF products is economically feasible.

Tajvidi said product commercialization that leads to jobs and improved forest health is an exciting, worthwhile goal, given that in 2016, approximately 22.5 billion square feet of wallboard products were sold in the U.S.

Incorporating 20% of CNF in drywalls, at 10% market penetration, would translate into a potential annual market of more than 400,000 metric tons of CNF, he said, noting that Maine paper mills, which already transform trees into pulp to make paper, could be modified to make CNF and thereby gain new revenues from Maine's tremendous resource of 17 million acres of forest.

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