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US Forest Service Research & Development
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  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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Nanotechnology
2012 Research Highlights
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Small and the Technology of Small

Nano is small, really, really, small. It comes from a Greek word meaning dwarf. One nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter (1 meter = 39.4 inches).

A nanometer is much, much smaller than a spot on a lady bug. An ant is about 5,000,000 nm (0.2 inches) long; human hair is about 100,000 nm (0.004 inches) wide; and an atom is approximately 1 nm.

Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Unusual physical, chemical, and biological properties can emerge in materials at the nanoscale. Nanotechnology also encompasses any nanoscale systems and devices and unique systems and devices that are involved in the manufacturing of nanoscale materials.

Nanotechnology as an Enabler in Forestry and Forest Products

As an enabling technology, nanotechnology has the potential to benefit all aspects of forestry and forest products: from plants, forest management, harvesting, forest operations, wood-base products, application of wood-based products to the understanding of consumer behavior. In international conferences, scientists have briefly touched upon the ideas of using nanotechnology enabled products in resolving issue of international interest such as climate change (nanotechnology enabled sensors for example), energy efficiency (nanotechnology enabled catalysts for example) and water resources (nanotechnology enabled water harvesting for example). The forest products industry has identified nanotechnology as one of the technologies that will enable new products and product features.

The industry has goals to create new bio-based composites and nanomaterials, and to achieve improvement in the performance-to-weight ratio of paper and packaging products through nanotechnology and nanotechnology-enabled new paper features such as optical, electronic, barrier, sensing thermal and surface texture.

Forest Products of the Future

Due to its ability to reduce carbon footprints of petroleum based products, renewable forest-based nanocelluloses, together with other natural-occurring nanocelluloses, have been the subject of active research and development internationally. Often requested by user industries, nanocellulose has found its way in the research and development of plastics, coatings, sensors, electronics, automobile body and aerospace materials, medical implants and body armor. In the future, we can claim plastics, cellular telephones, medical implants, body armors and flexible displays as forest products.

Impact of Nanotechnology and Job Creation in Rural Areas

Lux Research estimated that by 2015, US$3.1 trillion worth of products will have incorporated nanotechnology in their value chain. Successful realization of this technology using sustainable forest-based products will increase use of materials from renewable resources and decrease reliance on petroleum-based products and other non-renewable materials. With adequate investing in Forest Service nanotechnology R&D, the forest products industry envisions replacing the 300,000 jobs lost since 2006 with skilled workers, many of them in rural America—using materials we can grow, transport, and assemble into finished products in the United States more efficiently than nearly anywhere else in the world.