International Conference on Nanotechnology and Forest Products to Look at Safety Issues as well as Technical Ones

Published on April 19, 2006 at 11:16 AM

When more than 150 researchers, business leaders and government officials gather in Atlanta later this month to examine nanotechnology and its global scientific and economic impact on forest products industries, one of the first topics they’ll consider will be potential environmental safety and health issues related to nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is the science of understanding and controlling extremely small - one to 100 nanometers in size - particles of matter that have unique and novel properties. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter; a typical human hair is about 80,000 nanometers thick.)

“While nanoscale particles already exist in nature, the development of new ones and their use in consumer and industrial products have raised questions regarding potential unknown safety implications in their manufacture and use,” said Theodore Wegner, assistant director of the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), which is a co-sponsor of the conference.

“Many experts believe nanotechnology will drive economic growth in this century. The United States, for example, is spending more than $1 billion annually for nanotechnology research,” Wegner said.

A panel discussion of health and safety issues is scheduled to be the first session after the opening keynote address of the three-day TAPPI 2006 International Conference on Nanotechnology for the Forest Products Industry, which will run from April 26 to April 28 at Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis hotel. The panel will include representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), an industry group. TAPPI, principal sponsor of the conference, is a technical association representing the pulp, paper, packaging, and converting industries.

In addition to health and safety, the conference program includes two dozen sessions and 50 presentations featuring scores of panelists and speakers - many of them internationally recognized leaders in nanotechnology research, development, and deployment - from universities, industry, and government agencies and laboratories in the United States, Canada, Asia, and Europe.

Topics range from strategic planning for the application of nanotechnology or finding sources of funding for research and development, to practical and highly technical topics such as the challenges involved in putting nanosized biosensors on paper.

Complete program details and registration information are available from TAPPI at (800)-332-8686 (US), (800)-446-9431 (Canada) or +1-770-446-1400. One also can register online at http://www.tappi.org/06nano.

“Nanotechnology represents a major opportunity to generate new products and industries based on forest products in the coming decades,” Wegner said. “For example, nanotechnology will permit the development of “intelligent” wood- and paper-based products that incorporate built-in sensors to measure moisture, temperature, or pressure, or detect the presence of wood-decay fungi.

Nanotechnology is likely to have an even greater impact by leading to new ways to produce energy, chemicals and other products and processes that would enhance national energy security and benefit air and water quality as well as global climate change,” Wegner said.

Among the speakers at the conference, three researchers from the FPL are scheduled to present papers describing ongoing nanotechnology-related research at the Madison, Wis. lab. In addition, three others from FPL will chair sessions or participate in or moderate panel discussions. Wegner serves as conference co-chair.

Umesh Agarwal, research chemist at FPL, will describe the use of nano- and micro-particles of silver in conjunction with surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy to study lignin.

Rajai H. Atalla, research chemical engineer at FPL, will report on changes to the nanoscale structures of wood cellulose during the pulping process.

Robert Moon, materials research engineer, will describe pioneering work at the FPL using nanoindentation to explore micro-features and mechanical properties of the interactions among cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.

James Beecher, supervisory chemist at FPL, will co-chair two sessions on characterizing and measuring nanoscale structures.

Chris Risbrudt, director of FPL, will moderate a panel on strategic planning for the forest products industries.

Wegner will also report on how nanotechnology could help improve fiber recovery and utilization in the pulping process and will moderate a panel reporting on possible applications of nanotechnology to forest products industries.

In the fall of 2004, more than a hundred researchers from North America and Europe, with an interest in wood, paper or other forest products, gathered in Virginia to explore the possible role of nanotechnology in the forest products industry. They concluded that the future of the industry could depend on how well those industries embrace nanotechnology.

In the United States alone, forest products industries, which include pulp, paper, and wood products, employ some 1.1 million people and contribute more than $240 billion annually to the nation’s economy.

In addition to TAPPI and FPL, the conference is being co-sponsored by the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (USDA CSREES), the National Science Foundation, Agenda 2020-American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), University of Alaska-Fairbanks, West Virginia University, Sappi North America, Battelle-Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, American Chemical Society - Cellulose Division, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, University of Tennessee, and the University of Maine.

Additional collaborators include the Society of Wood Science and Technology, Pulp and Paper Education Research Alliance, Forest Products Society, Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada, Zellcheming, International Academy of Wood Science, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Paper Industry Technical Association, Appita-the Technical Association of the Australian and New Zealand Pulp and Paper Industry, and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

The USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory was established in 1910 in Madison, Wis., with the mission to conserve and extend the country’s wood resources. Today, FPL’s research scientists work with academic and industrial researchers and other government agencies in exploring ways to promote healthy forests and clean water, and improve papermaking, wood products conversion, and recycling processes. Through FPL’s Advanced Housing Research Center, researchers also work to improve homebuilding technologies and materials. Information is available at FPL’s Web site: http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us.

http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/

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