Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are forest bioproducts?

Bioproducts are fuels, chemicals, raw materials made from resources often called “biomass” (organic matter available on a renewable basis). Instead of depending on the planet’s limited supply of nonrenewable resources (petroleum and coal), trees, plant material and organic wastes (biomass) are turned into electricity, fuels, plastics, chemicals, and consumer products. The biomass used in the manufacture of bioproducts provides an alternative to the use of petroleum and petrochemicals.

What does FBRI mean by a sustainable bio-economy?

New technologies that create bioproducts are part of a growing shift to an economy that relies on renewable biological materials. A biobased economy offers us opportunities to create new businesses even as we use existing resources (forests, for example) and retrofit existing industries.

What is a biorefinery?

FBRI is working on the development of wood based biorefineries where many products (pulp, paper, fuels, wood plastics and other chemical and products) are created at one location. Pulp and paper mills are ideal locations where energy sources, wood delivery systems and industrial expertise are already available to support and grow a more diverse bio-economy.

How will wood-based products replace current petroleum products?

“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 and FBRI’s Science Director. “Almost anything that is now made from petroleum, can now also be made from wood.”

How does life cycle assessment assist FBRI researchers to develop new products?

LCA is a complete examination of a product’s environmental and economic aspects and potential impacts throughout its lifetime, including raw material extraction, transportation, manufacturing, use, and disposal. We look for improved methods of assessing land use and habitat impacts within a life cycle framework while we also assess socio-economic impacts. Every product leads to a “tree” of impacts with hundreds of branches of processes that convert raw materials into goods and services while also releasing pollution to air, water, and land. “Life Cycle Assessment” estimates those impacts so we are able to design products and supply chains that meet our needs while we also place lighter demands on nature.

What FBRI-developed bioproducts are currently close to commercial development?

UMaine’s proprietary “van Heiningen process,” which applies hemicellulose extraction techniques to wood chips prior to the pulping process, is moving towards technology deployment at Red Shield Environmental’s nearby mill in Old Town. Red Shield Environmental converted its existing pulping system at the Old Town mill into a two-vessel system able to accommodate both pulp production and the additional extraction of hemicellulose from wood chips. In the future these hemicellulose-rich extracts will feed the mill’s proposed ethanol refinery process, capable of producing two million gallons of ethanol per year.

What challenges are part of creating a bio-economy?

UMaine is marshaling a broad array of campus researchers, scientists and business partners to create solutions to these regional and global challenges:

  • Climate change and dependence on fossil fuels.
  • The need for new markets for wood species not fully used in the paper making process.
  • Innovative solutions to retrofit local mills to provide future employment.
  • Sustainable strategies that support the retention of Maine’s forests as undeveloped landscapes.
  • Support for the next generation of students and researchers who will evolve bioproducts research into commercial success.