In March of 2006, UMaine received a $6.9 million award from the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which required a 50 percent ($3.45 million) match by the university through the Maine Economic Improvement Fund. The grant, “Investing in Maine Research Infrastructure: Sustainable Forest Bioproducts,” addresses the pressing issues of our time: replacements for fossil fuels, renewable energy, green chemicals — and creative uses of sustainable resources: in this case, trees.
The ultimate goal is to build research infrastructure that creates a forest-based biorefinery in Maine, using trees instead of oil to make fuel…but not just fuel. UMaine wants to augment the pulp and paper and building products industries with new revenue streams of high-profit margin chemicals, plastics and nanotechnology products as well as new sources of energy. Best of all, these bioproducts would leave a smaller, lighter ecological footprint.
“Advances in science, coupled with better understanding of the ecosystem, the biology of tree growth and the chemistry of breaking wood down, allow us to approach forest biorefining more efficiently than we have in the past,” says Stephen Shaler, a UMaine professor of wood sciences and technology. “Almost anything that is now made from petroleum, can now also be made from wood.”
The University of Maine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute’s new Technology Research Center (TRC) validates, demonstrates, and helps commercialize developing fuel, chemical and advanced material technologies from forest bioproducts at an industrially relevant scale. It provides wood suppliers and wood users the opportunity to collaborate with each other and with University of Maine faculty researchers. TRC is a one-stop shop for processing and analysis of technologies. The 40,000-square-foot facility, located on the grounds of Expera Speciality Solutions in Old Town, Maine, features state-of-the-art process control and process information systems. TRC was funded by a $4.8 million Maine Technology Institute grant and private contributions.