Auburn research team to use USDA grant to strengthen forestry industry in Alabama

Published: April 03, 2015
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AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The forestry industry generates more than $21 billion in Alabama annually and employs more than 122,000 Alabamians. A team of Auburn University researchers will use a $494,336 grant from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to create new markets and job opportunities in the industry for the state.

The team, led by Sushil Adhikari of Auburn's Department of Biosytems Engineering, will focus on using Alabama trees and grasses to create new bioproducts that will compete with traditional products totaling nearly $5 billion in annual revenue in North America alone. The team will use the USDA grant to fund a study on using locally grown biomass to replace petroleum-based adhesives and conductive paints.

The study is funded for three years, during which the researchers will move toward finding sustainable and innovative ways to produce new products from plant materials instead of fossil fuels. They will examine different techniques to increase phenol concentration in pyrolysis oil and use pyrolysis oil to produce novalac resins, which will then be used to produce adhesives for producing bio-composites and anticorrosive paints.

"If the project is successful, we will be producing adhesives similar to phenol formaldehyde, currently the main resin used in engineered wood composite products, as well as alternatives to current conductive paint products," Adhikari said. "This would mean we would not have to rely entirely on petroleum-based products."

The only study of its kind in the U.S., it will take place primarily at Auburn University and will involve researchers from the colleges of Agriculture and Engineering, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Biological Sciences. The other team members on this project are Maria Auad and Xinyu Zhang from polymer and fiber engineering, Brian Via from the Forest Products Laboratory and Ajay Shah from The Ohio State University.

Adhikari, an associate professor of biosystems engineering and a researcher with the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, says the work could help stem worldwide dependence on petroleum while creating a new market for Southeastern forest products.

Funding for the project comes from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture's (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, established in 2008 to fund basic and applied research, education and extension in the food and agricultural sciences.

For more information on the study, contact Adhikari at (334) 844-3543 or sza0016@auburn.edu.