WASHINGTON, D.C. (From news reports) -- The University of Maine and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced a new research collaboration to advance efforts to use wood fiber in 3D printer manufacturing.
The $20 million initiative is seen as a promising new technology with strong potential to create a new market for Maine's $8.5 billion forest products industry. The announcement was made earlier this month in Washington, D.C., by Daniel Simmons, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. He was joined by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Angus King, I-Maine; and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., as well as leaders from UMaine and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Under the partnership, the Oak Ridge and UMaine research team will work with the forest products industry to produce new bio-based materials that will be conducive to 3D printing a variety of projects ranging from boat hull molds, shelters, building components, tooling for composites and wind blades.
The collaborative research also will position the industry to print large structurally demanding systems, such as boats, according to a news release announcing the initiative.
"This exciting initiative is a win-win that will bolster the cutting-edge research performed at the University of Maine as well as support job creation in our state," Collins said. "The development of sustainable, inexpensive wood-based materials for large-scale 3D printing has the potential to invigorate Maine's forest products industry. This project is an outstanding example of our national labs working cooperatively with universities to drive American innovation and strengthen our economy."
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., where the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is located, characterized the partnership as a "model for how science and technology can help Americans prosper in the new economy."
"Using Maine forest products for 3-D 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," he said.
The $20 million effort, funded by the Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office, aims to strengthen regional manufacturing by connecting university-industry clusters with DOE's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge. Alexander, chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and Collins, a member of the subcommittee, worked to secure funding for this initiative in the fiscal year 2019 Energy and Water bill.
The manufacturing demonstration center will enable regional industries to apply decades of experience in a short period of time to more effectively translate additive manufacturing technology to the region's strengths, according to the news release. Oak Ridge is a world leader in advanced manufacturing and is DOE's largest science and energy laboratory, conducting basic and applied research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security. UMaine is a world leader in cellulose nano-fiber technology, including development of nano- and micro-cellulose reinforced thermoplastic composites through its Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
"Maine's forest products industry is central to our state's identity, and plays a leading role in our economy, which is why bringing innovation and creativity to the Maine woods is so important," King said. "I can think of no partnership more capable of advancing the industry than the world-class research institutions at the University of Maine and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. With their collaborative expertise, Maine can leverage new opportunities to attract biobased industries to our state, further cutting-edge ideas, and foster growth and prosperity in our state's rural communities.
The collaboration will give students, faculty and companies associated with UMaine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center access to Oak Ridge National Laboratory's assets and expertise in advanced manufacturing. Oak Ridge researchers, in turn, will gain access to UMaine's facilities and expertise in cellulose nanofiber technology and composites.
Scientists from Oak Ridge and UMaine will conduct fundamental research in several key technical areas, including cellulose nanofiber production, drying, functionalization, and compounding with thermoplastics, multiscale modeling and sustainability life-cycle analysis. By placing cellulose nanofiber into plastics, those scientists say strong, stiff and recyclable bio-derived material systems can be developed that may be 3D printed at rates of hundreds of pounds per hour and comprising up to 50% cellulose fiber.
"The University of Maine is doing cutting-edge research related to bio-feedstocks and the application of advanced manufacturing in regional industries. 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," said Thomas Zacharia, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy agreed.
"This collaboration is a shining example of UMaine's commitment to exceptional research, workforce development, and economic advancement benefiting Maine and beyond," she said. "This partnership will allow our faculty and students to work seamlessly with Oak Ridge researchers, learn, innovate and strengthen local manufacturing."