Research and development in higher learning institutions around the globe is critical. It leads to breakthroughs that benefit industry and humanity. Composites Manufacturing did some research of its own to present a sampling of noteworthy achievements from various universities. This story, about cellulose nanocomposites, is the second in a series of stories this month.

Project: Nanocomposites made from cellulose
School: University of Maine
Location: Orono, Maine
Director: Douglas J. Gardner

While most researchers think big, Douglas Gardner thinks small—really, really small. The professor of wood science and technology leads the Nanocomposites Research Group at the AEWC Advanced Structures & Composites Center at the University of Maine. Nanocomposites are composites with dimensions less than 100 nanometers. Just how little is that? The average width of a single human hair is approximately 50 micrometers: One nanometer is 1/50,000 the width of a human hair.

The focus of the research group is to utilize lower-cost nanocomposites made from cellulose (the main part of plant cell walls) to develop the next generation of lightweight, high-performance, bio‐based materials for a variety of defense, infrastructure and energy applications. “Cellulose derived from wood—Maine’s most abundant natural resource—is a promising source for low-cost, renewable nano-structured materials,” says Gardner. He envisions new applications for automobile components, additives in paint and coatings, aerogels, barrier coatings, water filters, tissue scaffolds, scaffolds for catalysts and more.