ORONO — Members of the Aroostook Partnership for Progress Forest Products Industry Cluster and others now have a better understanding of the role the University of Maine is playing in forestry related research and development.
Touring several facilities September 9, both on and off campus, researchers showed off promising projects for the industry. Researchers with U-Maine are working in numerous areas, such as nanocellulose technology, jet fuel from wood biomass, new paper coatings, cross-laminated timber, manufacturing improvements and other ventures, some of which are confidential due to agreements with partner companies.
“The primary goal of the cluster is to increase production potential and new products in this sector, and research and development is critical to enabling future opportunities for growth in the form of new products or processes,” said APP President and CEO Bob Dorsey. “The University of Maine is a resource right in our own back yard and one which is playing a big role in the forest industry in this state and beyond.”
The work being done at U-Maine brings together the university’s internationally recognized expertise in forest resources, wood and paper science, structural engineering and chemical engineering to solve current problems and develop new opportunities for Maine’s $8-billion forest-based economy. According to researchers, one extremely promising area is in nanocellulose.
U-Maine’s Process Development Center is the nation’s first Cellulose Nanofiber Pilot Plant. Funded through a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service, the new facility can produce up to one ton per day of cellulose nanofiber, a material derived from wood chips with commercial potential as a component in foods, composites, transparent flexible films and a wide range of other products.
In addition to the Process Development Center, cluster members, which included mill owners and representatives, economic development officials, a Maine legislator, political staffers and others, toured the Center for Research on Sustainable Forests, Engineered Wood Composites, Paper Surface Science Program, the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute and Technology Research Center and the Advanced Manufacturing Center.
“I was amazed at the breadth and depth of practical and exotic research being conducted at U-Maine,” said Dorsey. “I’m sure it opened the eyes of many in our cluster. It also fostered new relationships between industry and the University, which will hopefully lead to even greater collaboration going forward. It was truly a success and we plan on conducting another tour for those who couldn’t make this one later this fall.”
The cluster was formed with the goals of increasing value added processing (current and potential), create jobs and grow the forest economy of Aroostook and Maine.
The group, which represents industry officials, loggers, educators, economic development officials, bankers and others, meets every other month to discuss opportunities and challenges.
The cluster, organized by APP and supported by Northern Maine Development Commission through grants from the Maine Technology Institute and USDA Rural Development, has developed an action plan to address challenges in workforce development/education, transportation, energy, access to capital/insurance, state bureaucratic barriers and research/development.
The forest products industry represents more than 6,750 jobs in Aroostook County and is the major economic engine of the region.