Potential Research Projects 2024

Dr. Doug Bousfield, Chemical and Biomedical Department:
Application of micro fibrillated cellulose on 3D fiber formed objects
Micro fibrillated Cellulose (MFC) when applied to paper or as a stand-alone film shows excellent grease
and oil barrier properties, even after folding.   One potential application is to use a layer of MFC on top of
a fiber-formed object such as a plate or bowl, that would help repel oil and grease when in use.  Currently,
other petroleum derived coatings or PFAS chemicals are used to generate grease and oil repellency.  The
method to apply MFC onto a 3D object is not clear.  In this project, we will explore various options to
apply the MFC layer including spray coating and dip coating.  In addition, additives to the MFC
suspension on grease and oil barrier will be characterized.

Dr. Ling Li, School of Forest Resources
Develop novel wood derived products
The BioEnergy Laboratory based in the School of Forest Resources currently has three research areas: 1)
membrane technology in air dehumidification, 2) thermally efficient wood fiber insulation panel products,
and 3) biochar derived from forestry biomass. We aim to provide solutions to improve the energy
efficiency in the wood products manufacturing process, reduce the energy consumption in the wood
industry and build sector, and reduce the negative environmental impacts. We will continue to provide
REU students with a wide range of topics within the three research areas. Proposed projects include i.)
surface modification of CNC to improve the compatibility of CNC and PDMS polymer, ii.) development
of laminated membrane materials for wood drying applications, iii.) evaluation of the hygrothermal
performance of wood fiber insulation panel products, and iv.) multiple applications of woody biochar.
The students will be able to gain research skills, like literature review, analysis of information from
literature, critical thinking, experimental design, data collection, report writing, etc.

Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Chemical and Biomedical Department
Chemical catalytic conversion of biomass to high value added bioproducts
The conversion of biomass to high-value bioproducts has grown in importance, given the recent swings in
the price of transportation fuels and petrochemicals driven first by the availability of cheap hydrocarbon
feedstocks followed by more recent limits due to global conflicts. Strategies that couple chemical and
biological catalysis are attractive for producing such bioproducts, which leads to a need to develop insight
into the fundamental processes that govern selectivity in during liquid-phase reactions of oxygenated
feedstocks. REU students in the past have investigated the influence of solvation on the reaction kinetics
for liquid-phase esterification as a model reaction. The proposed REU project will develop similar
insights into aqueous-phase acid-catalyzed aldol condensations, as a model for C-C bond forming
reactions during biomass upgrading. Acetone condensation to trimethylbenzene will be carried out in
liquid-phase batch reactors, and the reaction kinetics will be elucidated. From the kinetics study, we will
develop preliminary mechanistic insight about solvation effects on C-C bond formation that will be
compared against what we have learned already learned about solvation effects on C-O bond formation.

Dr. William Gramlich, Department of Chemistry
Sustainable polymers and materials from wood
Most commercial thermoplastics and rubbers are derived from petroleum sources and as a result they
cannot be sustainably produced. Furthermore, most petroleum based polymers will not degrade in nature
and few are currently recycled. Sustainable polymers can address these challenges as they can be sourced
from renewable sources and degrade in nature. Current sustainable thermoplastics have limited
applications because they have low working temperatures. Thus, new sustainable thermoplastics are

needed to achieve wider use. In one possible project, summer REU students will synthesize new
renewable monomers, study their polymerization, and characterize thermal and mechanical properties.
Students will use the monomer platform, lignin functionalized delta-hexalactones (LDHLs), developed by
Dr. Gramlich and Dr. Schwartz, which can be produced hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF) and lignin
derivatives, to synthesize new monomers and subsequent bio-based polyesters. Students will learn
chemical synthesis and characterization techniques for monomer and polymer synthesis when they
explore new lignin derivatives and catalysts for polymerizations, targeting new polymers with different
glass transition temperatures, barrier properties, and mechanical properties. In another possible project,
new sustainable materials will address a key challenge to implementing dry CNFs in materials and
coatings, which is the removal of the large quantity of water that exists in their native form while
retaining their nanostructure. Previous work with undergraduates has demonstrated that surface
functionalization of the CNFs with a reactive handle and subsequent emulsion polymerization of
hydrophobic polymers improves its drying and retention of nanoscale structure. REU students will
expand on this work with commercially available monomers and explore how emulsion polymerization
reactions affect the degree of polymer functionalization on the CNFs surface. These chemical and
microstructure changes will be correlated with nanoscale and microscale morphology through
microscopy, dewatering and drying of the materials, and barrier properties of the materials when formed
into a film.

Dr. Mehdi Tajvidi, School of Forest Resources
Multi-functional Renewable Composite Material Development
The laboratory of Renewable Nanomaterials (LRN) at the University of Maine has for many years
focused on alternative applications of cellulose nanomaterials built upon their intrinsic binder and barrier
properties. The LRN has also so far hosted five REU students whose works have been published in peer-
reviewed journals and presented at international conferences. New efforts at LRN are centered around the
combination of these two important properties where cellulose nanomaterials are both used as the binder
and the barrier layer in the formulation of new bioproducts being developed. We will develop novel
multifunctional composite systems enabled by cellulose nanomaterial technology for applications in
packaging, thermal insulation, automotive interior parts, building and construction, water remediation and
oil/water separation.

Dr. Lipponen, Aalto University in Finland
CNF surface modification using innovating physical and chemical methods
The CNF biopolymers have been studied as a filler/reinforcement in both biopolymer matrix
(polybutylene succinate, poly lactic acid, natural rubber, etc.) and synthetic polymer matrices (low density
polyethylene, high density polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyethylene terephthalate, etc.) for
enhancing various properties of bio and synthetic polymer composites including thermal and mechanical
properties. Due to the hydrophilic nature of CNF, there is a limited success with dispersing CNF in
hydrophobic polymers such as polypropylene, polyethylene, poly lactic acid, and polycaprolactone. The
rich hydroxyl groups present on the CNF surface can result in poor compatibility between CNF and
hydrophobic polymer matrix, which is a major challenge for scaling up the CNF reinforced thermoplastic
composites. The CNF surface modification using innovating physical and chemical methods will be
studied for applications in specific hydrophobic polymer matrices.

Dr. Adam Daigneault, School of Forest Resources
Sustainability Assessment
There is extensive research utilizing forest sector modeling to quantify impacts of changes in timber
markets and land use policy on roundwood harvest, log prices, and carbon sequestration. Expanding the
capacity for producing innovative and sustainable wood products will have an impact on local and
regional forest product markets, forest management, and carbon in standing forests and harvested wood
products. To quantify these, impacts of we will update and expand a well-developed Global Timber

Supply and Carbon Model (GTSCM) with a more detailed representation of the US forests, with a
particular emphasis on Northeastern US species, systems, and wood products. The framework will follow
a dynamic optimization model of forests and land use at a state, regional, and global level. This specific
research will utilize GTSCM to analyze how markets and forest land use could shift under a wide set of
alternative futures that vary the technical innovation and demand for forest bioproducts. Results from this
work can be used to assess the environmental and economic sustainability of developing and utilizing
new forest products along various aspects of the supply chain from the forest ecosystem to consumer end use.

Dr. Onar Apul, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
PFAS Mitigation
Across the United States, there is growing concern about the widespread occurrence of PFAS in our water, our food, and our bodies stemming from exposure through landfills, pesticides, atmospheric deposition, consumer products and fire suppressants. The land application of municipal and industrial biosolids to agricultural fields or septage disposal sites contributing to PFAS contamination in groundwater and surface water. Importantly, heavy reliance on private wells for drinking water in these regions drives an urgent need for innovative research to quantify both real and perceived risks and guide management decisions to minimize the threats of PFAS contamination to water resources, rural resiliency, public health, and economic well-being. For this, multidisciplinary and pioneering research is needed. The REU students in my research group will employ an integrated approach to address complex issues caused by PFAS pollution by creating systems level modeling and molecular level understanding.

Dr. Sampath Gunukula, Forest Bioproducts Research Institute
PFAS Mitigation and Sustainable Fuels
We propose a novel integrated approach for upgrading energy crops containing PFAS to transportation fuels while simultaneously mitigating PFAS compounds using a novel integrated process of hydrothermal liquefaction, electrochemical oxidation, and hydrotreatment. The supercritical water conditions (450 to 500 °C and 3000 psi) of hydrothermal liquefaction process can break the carbon-carbon bond of PFAS compound and lead to their partial degradation. These partially degraded PFAS compounds can be distributed between the organic and aqueous phases of hydrothermal liquefaction by tuning the operating conditions of downstream separation process (liquid-liquid equilibrium). The catalytic hydrodefluorination of oil phase of hydrothermal liquefaction containing partially degraded PFAS compounds produces hydrocarbon fuel and complete degradation of PFAS compounds. The electrochemical oxidation of aqueous phase of hydrothermal liquefaction can completely degrade PFAS and produce hydrogen fluoride, which can be reacted with calcium oxide to make calcium fluoride.

Dr. Rachel Schattman, University of Vermont
Sustainable solutions for soil health
Soil Health is of critical importance to human society and natural ecosystem functioning. Important ecosystem services such as clean water, food provisioning, greenhouse gas mitigation, and more are facilitated by complex soil-based ecosystems in terrestrial ecosystems. Agricultural soils are commonly highly managed for the purpose of food, fiber, and fuel production. Traditional western methods of production, often involving deep tillage, can diminish soil functions and reduce the services that soil provides. Alternative practices, such as rotational planting and cover cropping, have been shown to improve soil health conditions. These practices are underutilized in the U.S., as they are logistically challenging. The student working on this project will help fine-tune innovative cover cropping practices in specialty crop production systems. This project has the potential to dramatically improve cover crop use in temperate climates, specifically through improving our understanding of how and when to manage complex soil-cropping systems for the dual goals of agricultural productivity and soil health.