Researchers awarded grant to develop cellulose nanocomposite materials

The field of nanoscience has shown that the smallest of particles are sometimes the strongest. Research into these infinitesimal objects – whose dimensions range from a few nanometers to less than 100 nanometers; by comparison, a sheet of paper has a thickness of 100,000 nanometers – has also shown these particles are well-suited for use in materials that must by necessity be lightweight and flexible.

Doug Gardner, a University of Maine professor of wood science and technology, has been awarded a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory for his research into developing to produce powders made from nanoscale cellulosic particles, known as cellulose nanofibrils or CNF.

“Cellulose derived from wood – Maine’s most abundant natural resource – is a promising source for low-cost, renewable nano-structured materials,” Gardner said.
The composite materials produced with CNF will eventually be used in building materials, automobile parts, wind energy components and other green materials. The particles are recognized as having superior mechanical properties and can be produced at a lower cost than other nanofiller materials.

The USDA grant will kick off a five-year research project that aims to address some of the barriers to producing commercially viable CNFs, including the breaking down of biomass to components below the fiber level while preserving favorable nano properties.

Research into cellulose nanofibrils is a priority for the Department of Agriculture, which is seeking to develop efficient processing methods to create novel materials for use in advanced composites, high-end additives and fillers for high-end construction and manufacturing systems.

Yoosoo Han, UMaine biocomposite specialist in the AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center and graduate faculty in forest resources, is also involved in the CNF research.

Gardner, who is affiliated with UMaine’s School of Forest Resources, the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, and the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute, is a UMaine graduate.

Contact: Doug Gardner, (207) 581-2846 or; Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777 or