The large-scale initiative was announced this week in Washington, DC. Leaders from the university and ORNL, as well as the DoE‘s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy Daniel Simmons, the founding executive director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center Habib Dagher, and US Sens. Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, and Angus King were all on hand for the announcement, which also stated that UMaine and ORNL had received $20 million in federal funding for the program from the DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office.
said.“While Oak Ridge is a global leader in additive manufacturing, the University of Maine is an expert in bio-based composites. By working together, they will strengthen environmentally responsible advanced manufacturing in America as well as helping the forest industry in the state of Maine,” Senator Collins
Sens. Collins and King requested federal help to save the declining forest products industry in Maine back in 2016, after several paper mills in the state closed their doors. This led to the founding of the Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT) to work across agencies in order to come up with economic development strategies for the rural communities in Maine that were suffering from the mill closures. This team resulted in the ongoing partnership between UMaine and ORNL.
This October, ORNL’s BAAM 3D printer will be installed at UMaine, which is actually considered a world leader in cellulose nano fiber (CNF) technology. UMaine students can also visit ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF), while staff from the laboratory can in turn learn about cellulose fiber and composites at UMaine’s composites center.
“Using Maine forest products for 3D printing is a great way to create new jobs in Maine and a good reminder that national laboratories are our secret weapons in helping the United States stay competitive in the rapidly changing world economy. The partnership between the University of Maine and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a model for how science and technology can help Americans prosper in the new economy,” said Senator Alexander.
One of the printer’s first tasks will be to fabricate a boat mold out of a wood-based plastic, though the team hopes to apply the technology to many large-scale manufacturing applications.
Dagher explained, “The material is nanocellulose, basically a tree ground up to its nano structure. These materials have properties similar to metals. We are taking those and putting them in bioplastics so we can make very strong plastics that we can make almost anything with.”
The team will then add the nanocellulose to PLA.
“The University of Maine is doing cutting-edge research related to bio-feedstocks and the application of advanced manufacturing in regional industries,” said Thomas Zacharia, the director of ORNL. “We are thrilled at this opportunity to expand our research base while providing UMaine with access to the leading national capabilities we have developed at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.”
The overall goal for the initiative is to find new uses for wood-based products in an effort to reinvigorate Maine’s forest products industry, while also helping to make regional manufacturing stronger by connecting university–industry clusters with the MDF. The federal funding will be divided equally between both facilities.
“We will integrate 20 years of research in bio-based composites at UMaine and 3D printing at ORNL. It is an opportunity engine for our students, faculty, staff and manufacturing industry who will work side by side with researchers at our nation’s foremost research laboratory. Together, we will break down wood to its nanocellulose structure, combine it with bioplastics, and print with it at hundreds of pounds an hour,” said Dagher. “The research we will be conducting with ORNL will spur next-generation manufacturing technologies using recyclable, bio-based, cost-effective materials that will bolster our region’s economy.”
Scientists from UMaine and ORNL will be conducting research in multiple areas, such as multiscale modeling, CNF production, drying, functionalization, and compounding with thermoplastics, and sustainability life-cycle analysis.
CNF could actually rival the properties of steel, and by successfully adding it into plastics, the researchers could create a renewable feedstock for strong, recyclable, bio-derived material systems that might even be 3D printed at deposition rates of hundreds of pounds an hour. Additionally, using a material that’s 50% wood could help open new markets for the forest products industry.
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