Letters from the West

Cellulosic nanomaterials poised to transform forest industry

Imagine the next generation of forest product industries who create and manufacture strong, stiff and lightweight products from cellulose manipulated at the molecular level.

The development of commercial markets for cellulosic nanomaterials, tiny, naturally occurring structural building blocks, hold great promise for many products in electronics, construction, food, energy, health care, automotive, aerospace, and defense. These products could include jet fuel, aerogels, oil drilling additives, paints, coatings, adhesives, cement, food additives, lightweight packaging materials, paper, health care products, tissue scaffolding, lightweight vehicle armor, space technology, and automotive parts.

At a time when 3-D copiers are coming into their own the development of these materials and technologies to produce them cheaply are a great opportunity for a nation filled with trees. It also offers the opportunity to make harvesting smaller, now less commercial trees from our forests that may otherwise burn up as climate change-driven wildfires continue to rage across the American West and around the world.

That’s why the Forest Service released a report today “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization” out of a workshop it sponsored earlier this year. The University of Idaho is just one of the many universities working on this technology that ought to have more attention of Idaho policy makers.

While the Idaho Legislature keeps looking for way to increase logging by taking over federal lands, they are looking at an old economy instead of a new one perhaps not far in the future.The Canadians have kept timber prices low by giving away their timber to industry in a clear policy to help develop rural communities.

That’s not going to change soon so like so many industries caught in the transition, the wood products industry is looking for ways to innovate develop new products and markets. Commercializing cellulosic nanomaterials may be one of those innovation that helps transform Idaho the way Micron Technology did in the 1980s.