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OSU and VT to Partner in Centre for Wood-Based Composite Materials

  • Friday, 13th August 2010
  • Reading time: about 4 minutes

Oregon State University and Virginia Tech have been chosen by the National Science Foundation to lead a new Industry/University Cooperative Research Centre focused on wood-based composite materials, in a $2.2 million, five-year research initiative.

The new centre will facilitate the work of six faculty members and three graduate students per year at OSU, similar research initiatives at Virginia Tech, and collaborative work with eight private companies.

“OSU and Virginia Tech are both international leaders in wood science and technology, and this major new initiative will build on those strengths,” said Fred Kamke, professor of wood science and engineering in the OSU College of Forestry. “Composite products allow for more efficient, sophisticated and competitive uses of wood, and they’re the future of the wood products industry.”

Wood composites are not new – they’ve been around for decades in such forms as plywood and particle board. But the future will bring improved forms of these renewable, environmentally friendly products, such as laminated veneer lumber, strand composites, wood and thermoplastic composites, and improved types of wood adhesives, said Kamke, site director for the centre.

Advances may be possible in reduced costs, improved performance, new products, material recycling and more environmental sensitivity. One of the first projects to be performed at OSU will investigate durability of adhesive bonds using micro X-ray tomography and numerical modeling techniques.

“Wood products are now a global, intensely competitive industry, and we believe that advanced research will help keep the U.S. at the forefront of that industry,” said Kamke, who holds the JELD-WEN Chair of Wood Based Composites Science at OSU. “This will help both existing and new companies stay competitive while they create innovative new products and jobs.”

The Virginia Tech Wood-Based Composites Center was hit hard by the economic recession, losing 11 of its 17 industry members after enjoying record funding in 2008. The remaining six industry members — Weyerhaeuser Company, Hexion Specialty Chemicals, Henkel Corporation, Georgia-Pacific Chemicals, Ashland, and Arclin — initiated a six-month strategic planning process in 2009 to reinvent the center for sustainable operation.

Virginia Tech Wood-Based Composites Center Director Chip Frazier, the Thomas M. Brooks Professor of Wood Science and Forest Products, and Managing Director Linda Caudill, implemented the industry members’ plans, which included pursuing the NSF grant to create an I/UCRC. This award, combined with rejuvenated industrial support, including new members JELD-WEN and Willamette Valley Company, breaks the former record for the centre’s funding.

“We are excited and gratified; this award benefits our students and it expands our service to the industry. Our industry members’ contributions will be leveraged for a much greater impact,” stated Frazier. The centre is already achieving this through seed funds provided by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

“The centre’s industry members seek efficient ways to accomplish the fundamental research that supports their business needs,” Caudill added. “The Wood-Based Composites Center can help them achieve that goal while giving them a first look at potential future employees. The collaborative nature of this NSF program is a win-win for all.”

A major component of the new initiative will be a partnership with eight private companies, who will each contribute at least $30,000 a year to support the research and student educational programs. The companies are Arclin; Ashland, Inc.; JELD-WEN; Hexion Specialty Chemical, Inc.; Henkel; Weyerhaeuser Co.; and Willamette Valley Co. Most are international wood product manufacturers. More industry members who share the same vision for innovation and improved product performance are also being actively recruited, Kamke said.

“These companies want to work with us, in part, to speed fundamental research related to their business,” Kamke said. “But they also see the value in supporting the research and education of graduate students and young scientists who will be their future employees.”

In addition to the corporate support, the National Science Foundation is providing base funding of $130,000 per year in a five-year, renewable grant. And the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center, or Oregon BEST, provided $75,000 in matching funds toward its goal of enhancing “green” building technologies in Oregon. Oregon BEST also recently provided start-up funds to OSU to establish the Green Building Materials Laboratory.

Most of the research will be done at either OSU or Virginia Tech, but some projects will also be subcontracted to other partner universities, Kamke said, including the University of British Columbia and the University of Maine.

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