Advanced Materials Research

At the Tennessee Center for Renewable Carbon, we are involved in the development of technologies that will foster the use and economic viability of materials, chemicals and fuels derived from renewable sources for a sustainable and more secure future.

A description of our research focus is below. Learn more about our research and equipment capabilities or access selected research publications.

Raw Materials Processing and Characterization

At the Center for Renewable Carbon, we are investigating novel methods to process lignocellulosic biomass to increase the value and utility of end products derived from these materials. This effort includes the use of wide range of raw materials that include: different wood species, bark, grasses, and derivatives. A core component to this research effort is to add value to materials prior to processing. This has led to a new center-wide research effort that extracts sugars from biomass prior to utilization in composites. The sugars will be used as a feedstock for fuels and chemicals. The extracted biomass will be inherently more resistant to water uptake and biological attack. In order to utilize lignocellusic materials smartly, it will be critical to fully characterize them especially in the sub-micron or nano scale. On-going researches include measuring nano-mechanical property of raw materials and understanding effects of processing on the mechanical properties of raw materials.

materials graph
  • Raw materials influenced by processing
  • Cellulose based nanomaterials

Products Development

The CRC is actively involved in new products development that includes synthetic and natural adhesives for renewable composites, structural building materials, natural fiber-reinforced polymer composites, biodegradable nanocomposites, multifunctional materials. Further, we are developing new technologies for coupling lignocellulosic derived materials with thermoplastic polymers. These polymers are obtained from either synthetic or natural feedstocks. Current methods for modifying interfaces that are under investigation include: electron-beam curable additives, novel ATRP synthesized copolymers, gas phase modification of lignocellulosic substrates, and novel material processing of biomass feedstocks.

Magnified view of materials
  • Process and property improvement of OSB
  • Carbon fiber from lignin

Materials Characterization

At the CRC, we use a wide array of mechanical, thermal, spectroscopic, and imaging tools to characterize natural based materials. We study the impact of materials processing and feedstocks on performance. We are particularly interested in the characterization of composite interfaces. Currently, we are investigating interphase in natural fiber reinforced polymer composites and the impact of a variety of adhesives on lignocellulosic cell wall properties using chemical imaging, AFM/SThM, and nano-indentation. These advanced techniques are being related to the bulk mechanical and physical performance of materials. In addition, spectroscopic techniques are being developed to rapidly assess materials and model their performance.

  • Nano-mechanics
  • Kinetics of water vapor absorption
Magnified wood sample images
Characterization of Materials