If you’ve never heard of ‘nanowood’ it probably won’t be long before it becomes the new buzzword. Nanowood is made by removing the filler from wood, which leaves only the bare fibers themselves, creating a material which has demonstrated amazing properties of insulation and has already out-performed other current insulators.
A team of researchers at College Park in Maryland has been experimenting with a process which uses simple chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, sodium sulphite, and sodium hydroxide to strip away the lignin and hemicellulose from wood, which leaves just the cellulose fibers remaining. These remaining fibers are arranged in parallel and give nanowood all its unusual characteristics, such as high-quality insulation and surprising strength.
Nanowood is the filler in wood that would normally allow heat to be conducted across it, but with that filler removed, there is virtually no such conduction and instead acts as a reflectant. Nanowood has also been shown to be unbelievably strong and is able to withstand up to 2,000 pounds per square inch, which puts it way ahead of glass, wood, epoxy, wool, and yes, even Styrofoam. Since it’s also very inexpensive to produce, there will undoubtedly be a whole catalog of uses for nanowood in the very near future, especially in the area of insulation.
Another wonder material made from wood
By the year 2020, it is entirely possible that a brand new industry will have sprung up around another new wonder material made from wood, and that this new industry has a global value of $600 billion. As astonishing as that sounds, no one is questioning the numbers, because nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) is already amazing the experts with its practical applications in flexible electronics, computer components, and even lightweight body armor that the U.S. military has commissioned.
NCC is made by processing wood pulp, much like nanowood, in that it has the lignin and hemicellulose stripped out, before concentrating it into a thick crystalline paste which can be applied to various surfaces, or processed into strands called nanofibrils. This extraordinarily strong material is eight times stronger than stainless steel, yet is extremely cheap to make, and there is a virtually unlimited supply of it.
The first U.S. factory has already opened in Madison, Wisconsin, and is operated by the U.S. Forestry Service. The U.S. Forest Service has already achieved a number of successes with its research and is responsible for many of the modern wood-based technologies currently in use, including wood based computer chips. The laboratory is sure to be involved on some level with the ongoing research into nanowood and nanocrystalline cellulose in the coming years, to find even more uses for amazing new wood-based products.
The GreenBlue Program is one which has broad support from the U.S. Forest Service, as well as public corporations such as McDonald’s, Mars, and Staples, with the stated goal of developing a new forest sustainability tool called Forests in Focus, and using it to increase sustainability and the certified supply of wood products. Forests in Focus is a digital mapping tool which will complement the initiative for certifying family-owned forests as sustainable, and as being managed with an appropriate level of respect for conservation. Nearly 40% of the commercial wood fiber produced in the U.S. comes from family-owned forests, but only about 1% of the source forests are certified for sustainability and environmental friendliness.
Problems with certification
Up to the present, certification of family-owned forests has not been so much an issue of unacceptable management processes, as it has been an issue of the certification process itself having little benefit for owners of such assets, while also being very costly to acquire. This is why the American Forest Foundation (AFF) has joined forces with the Forest Service in backing the GreenBlue Program, so as to get all the parties together, in an effort to understand the issues hindering certification.
The group has made significant progress, beginning with discussions about how to increase forest certification, and then progressing into exploring options on how to achieve greater access for monitoring, and potentially certifying, the vast lands currently belonging to the un-certified category of forest land. It has also addressed sustainability issues on the ground floor of these operations, and has hosted discussions with brand owners who cannot secure sufficient quantities of wood from certified forests.
How GreenBlue will help supply and sustainability
The partnership of big corporations, the American Forest Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), is paying dividends, as participants in the joint program have identified issues with the supply chain and have gained a better understanding of the importance of family-owned forests. When added to existing initiatives for certification, support for the GreenBlue Program should help bring in many more family-owned forest lands and increase certifications dramatically.
The new digital mapping tool, Forests in Focus, will help to identify gaps in sustainability wherever family-owned forest lands exist, so that such owners can be approached and assisted with obtaining certification. The hope is to involve a great many more family-owned enterprises in the certification process, so that supply chain shortages can be relieved, and so sustainable methods can be ensured on those lands where it might not currently exist.
In order to accomplish this, a vast amount of data must be gathered, correlated, and analyzed, so that the most informed decisions can be made about where to focus attention. Information on forest status, local trends, species, size, growth rates, mortality, and harvest rates must all be aggregated for analysis, so that visual depictions of the data can be developed, and then used to maximum effect by all of the participants in the GreenBlue program.
Nature’s Packaging is committed to forest sustainability and sustainably managing forests is key to maintaining healthy forests. A fix for the method by which forest fires have been funded has finally been included in the 2018 Omnibus Spending Package, which was recently signed into law by the President. Secretary of State Sonny Perdue had lobbied for modification of the way the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has been funded for firefighting ever since he took office in April 2017, and all his hard work has finally achieved success. A solution to the funding problem has been needed for several decades, and when Secretary Purdue came into office, he made it a priority, working with congressmen from both parties to finally achieve the necessary funding structure.
What’s included in Omnibus
For the period beginning in 2020 and ending in 2027, there will be an entirely new funding structure for the way forest fires are managed. Starting in 2020, there will be $2.25 billion available to the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior for fighting fires. Each year after 2020, the budget allotment will increase by $100 million, peaking at $2.95 billion in the year 2027.
If all funding available in the allotment is used, it will be required of the Secretary of Agriculture to produce a congressional report documenting all the expenditures which were made for fighting fires during the fiscal year.
Improvement over the past
This new funding package represents a significant improvement over how funding was handled in the past. Formally, a rolling 10-year average of funding was used, while the overall USFS budget stayed basically the same. However, during that period, fire seasons became longer with conditions that were worsening, so the rolling 10-year budget average kept rising.
That consumed a larger percentage of the U.S. Forest Service budget every year, which in turn mandated that the agency use funds from prevention programs in order to cover the cost of fire suppression. It was also necessary to cut a number of recreational programs, such as hunting and fishing, in order to ensure adequate funding for fire suppression.
In 2017, fire suppression costs were more than $2.5 billion, which was the highest total ever recorded, and during the height of the fire season, more than 28,000 personnel were involved with the fire suppression effort. This makes it extremely important that the Omnibus Package was approved this year, since it has been clearly demonstrated that fire seasons are becoming longer and more costly every year, at least for the present time.