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ARS Home » Nutrition, Food Safety/Quality » Research » Research Project #443244

Research Project: Valorization of Forest-Based Biomass

Location: Nutrition, Food Safety/Quality

Project Number: 0500-00090-001-009-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jul 17, 2023
End Date: Jul 16, 2026

Market development for forest products manufactured from forest-based biomass and manufacturing residues are vital to the expansion of a sustainable industrial ecosystem. In addition to economic benefits, strong markets for biomass can provide environmental benefits through carbon sequestration in long-lived products. Of added benefits is the ability to replace/compete with petroleum based products. This provides the basis for a circular bioeconomy driven by feedstocks from sustainably managed forests, and indeed strong markets provide opportunities for increased active forest management. This cooperative agreement contains three projects focused on forest-based biomass utilization in complementary markets including 1) biochar, 2) wood fiber insulation, and 3) wood fiber foam packaging. The project objectives are: [1] Biochar: This proposed project aims to solve some of the challenges described above by collaborating with local biochar manufacturers, focusing on the evaluation of upcycling biochar as a byproduct from the CHP plant, developing activated and engineered biochar products using forest biomass for soil amendment and remediation, and conducting economic and policy assessment for utilizing low- quality forest biomass for agricultural use biochar products. Through this project, we expect to demonstrate that applying biochar in agricultural lands for soil modification and remediation would be a climate-smart solution for sustainability in forest management, timber/biomass har- vesting, and economic growth of bioenergy, bioproducts, and crops. [2] Wood Fiber Insulation: The proposed solution is to evaluate several (underutilized) species in the region as feedstock for wood fiber insulation. Spruce (Pices spp.) and white pine (Pinus strobus) will serve as controls or “benchmarks”; other species to be investigated include: eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), bal- sam fir (Abies balsamea), red maple (Acer rubrum), and aspen (Populus tremuloides). [3] Wood Fiber Foam Packaging: Most available literature around foam forming is focused on rectangular shaped panels with no specific 3D shape. A process that can produce true 3D shaped lignocellulosic foamed structures by foam forming is currently lacking. In addition, low-density packaging foams are bulky and occupy a lot of space, making them difficult to ship and transport. Innovation is needed to develop foamed materials that can be compressed into high-density thin sheets for easier transportation and used upon 3D shape recovery after exposure to a stimulus. Finally, a clear understanding of the foam forming process in the presence of additives and various types of lignocellulosic feed- stock is required. Use of LCNF derived directly from wood sawdust as a binder in the formulation of such foams is another innovation that needs to happen to reduce costs and enable commercialization.

Project 1: Developing Biochar Products Using Forest Biomass as a Climate-Smart Solution for Maine Sustainability: Activated or engineered biochar products will be developed for biochar materials sourced from local Maine sources using chemical activation methods. The specific surface area and functional groups of the activated biochar will be examined using BET and FT-IR techniques. The PFAS adsorption performance of the activated biochar plus inactivated biochar (as control) will be evaluated by conducting a laboratory test and a greenhouse test using the contaminated soil samples collected from a local farm. Tomato crops will be grown in the soils to investigate the PFAS uptake by different plant tissues including fruits. This work also includes an analysis of the carbon flow and carbon sequestration from forest to biochar plant to soil. Project 2: Evaluation of Underutilized Northeastern Species as Feedstock for Wood Fiber Insulation: The evaluation of various wood species as a potential feedstock for WFI will be conducted on three forms: wood chips, TMP fiber, and WFI boards. Logs of the wood species will be procured through an industrial partner or harvested from UMaine forestlands. The logs will be debarked, split, and chipped. Representative chips will be evaluated for moisture content, bulk density, bark content, and thickness in accordance with industry standards. Wood chips will then be defibrillated in a refiner, and dried. Refined fiber length of the samples will be evaluated using a laser diffraction particle size analyzer. WFI boards of a given thickness and density will be formed using the fiberboard pilot line. Replicate boards for each species individually and using softwood and hardwood fiber blends will be manufactured and evaluated for internal bond strength, compressive resistance, and thermal conductivity. Project 3: Sustainable Protective Packaging Development Enabled by Nanocellulose Technology: Slurries of lignocellulosic particles/fibers with various particle sizes and particle size distributions will be prepared in water at consistencies ranging from 2 to 10 wt.%. CNF or LCNF (lignin containing CNF) will be used as binder at different concentrations/loadings. Various doses of surfactants, mainly sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) or other surfactants starting from reported values in the literature along with polymeric flocculants such as cationic polyacrylamide (cPAM) will be added to the mix to help with dewatering and particle retention. Parameters to study are bubble size and distribution, foam stability, drainage time and the effect of temperature on foam stability and drainage. Finally, the rheological properties of foams and dewatering performance will be evaluated to understand flow behavior. Phase change additives will be used to render shape memory to the foams and a CNF coating layer will be added to the surface of the 3D formed foams to impart strength and reduce dusting.