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Home > Press > Executive Q&A: Working on ethanol - Forest Products Lab's idea would turn wood products into the fuel

Q: What were your goals coming in as the new director of the Forest Products Lab in 2001? What did you hope to accomplish?

A: One is we need to rebuild this place. This building dates to 1931. Our newest facilities date to 1965 and if we're going to be on the cutting edge of science, we've got to have our scientists in modern facilities with modern equipment. I've been pushing a rebuilding of the Forest Products Laboratory.

The other (goal) was to refocus and reorganize because we've been downsizing the Forest Products Laboratory over the past couple of years due to budget problems. So we've dropped from 66 scientists to 58 and we expect to drop further.

We can no longer do everything and cover the waterfront on the research of wood.

We've got four focus areas now: advanced composites, which is essentially making wood into smaller and smaller pieces and mixing it with glue or plastic or cement or ceramics in some cases.

To go to the ultimate extreme of that, we're starting on nanotechnology. Wood has nano-sized fibers in it that are extremely strong. And we've never liberated them and figured out how to use them before. So nanotechnology is second.

Advanced structures is the third area. It's how you put the pieces of wood together into an effective envelope. It's as important as the properties of the individual pieces (of wood) themselves.

And then chemicals and energy from wood is the fourth area. We grow 700 million tons of wood a year in this country. We harvest 300 million tons, and we're accumulating biomass at the rate of 400 million tons a year in the forests of the United States. A lot of that biomass is in small trees, too small to do anything with, and species that aren't very good for products. So part of our focus is to figure out what to do with that material so it can pay its way out of the woods.

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