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Energy Efficient Processes and Materials Chemistry

Our Group has had a long term interest in energy efficient process and materials chemistries. Areas of interest include: 1) development of novel bio-derived materials which have potential application in transportation, 2) process alternatives which utilize electron-beam and microwave energy to permit "clean and green" conversion of wood and woody biomass to products, 3) nuclear chemical processing technologies, and 4) use of small angle neutron scattering to develop an understanding of the effect of solution structure on process chemistry. A brief description of current research in each of these areas, with links to programmatic websites, follows.

Novel bio-derived materials for transportation. The Automotive Lightweight Materials Program identified low cost carbon fiber precursors as a major need in the development of both fuel cell cars and high-fuel-efficiency passenger transport. Working in conjunction with North Carolina State University Department of Wood and Paper Sciences, a consortium member; the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Chemical Engineering Department; and the ORNL Shared Research Equipment Collaborative Research Center, bench scale production of carbon fiber from lignin-polymer blends, which could be used in transportation applications, has been demonstrated.

Visit the Automotive Lightweight Materials Program website for more information.

Process alternatives which utilize electron-beam and microwave energy in conversion of wood and woody biomass. The Industrial Technology Program identified processing of wood and woody biomass as having high process chemical and energy requirements. For example, it takes more energy to make a pound of paper than a pound of steel. This is due to cellular microstructures which block flow of liquids and gases into woods. Similarly, high pressures and temperatures are needed to cure the conventional adhesives in consumer wood composites. In these areas, process studies to determine how to use "clean and green" energy technologies - electron beams and microwave processing - to modify the materials processed and permit new process chemistries is being elucidated. As shown, microwaves can be used to rapidly and selectively modify cellular microstructures to greatly enhance gas and liquid flow. (Attach to Figure.) Project partners include several forest products companies, equipment manufacturers, and several universities (North Carolina State University Department of Wood and Paper Sciences, a consortium member; the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Forest Products Center; and Virginia Tech Wood Science and Forest Products Department).

Visit the Industries of the Future Forest Products website for more information.


Pit membranes control fluid flow in hardwoods. Scanning electron micrographs of untreated (before microwave treatment.jpg) and treated (after microwave treatment.jpg) maple vessel cell pit membranes show how cellular microstructures are modified by microwaves. SEMs of kiln dried paired wood samples by Doug Stokke and Monlin Kuo of Iowa State.

Small angle neutron scattering to develop an understanding of the effect of solution structure on process chemistry. Current Japanese research indicates that the formation of solution structures (micelles or liquid crystals) is the major rate limiting factor in wood pulping. Early studies indicate that micelles of lignin from pulping solutions are in the right size range - around 6 nm radius of gyration - for detailed study at HFIR. These micelles are closely related to environmental lignin degradation products, such as humic and fulvic colloids, which play a major role in the transport of small aliphatic and aromatic compounds through soil and aquatic systems.

Applied Technology Group R&D

Provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Chemical Sciences Division
Rev: Friday, 10-Jan-2003