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Parking lot is site for experimental concrete

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A downtown Greenville parking lot owned by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities soon will be the testing ground for what the organization is hoping will be a revolutionary form of concrete infused with wood nanoparticles.

The Greenville-based endowment, which is the “nation’s largest public charity dedicated solely to keeping forests as forests and advancing family-wage jobs in forest-rich rural communities,” has partnered with USDA Forest Service, Oregon State University and Purdue University to test the performance of concrete through the addition of cellulosic nanomaterials produced from wood, according to a news release.

The endowment’s 100-by-40-foot parking lot on East North Street is one of three sites nationwide being used in the test, Carlton Owen, the group’s president and CEO, said in a news release.

“We are excited to be spotlighting Greenville in this project,” Owen said. “This test aims to show what the future of sustainability can be.”

The endowment will be working with Harper General Contractors, SynTerra Corporation and Thomas Concrete to showcase this innovation with a rebuild of the parking lot this month. The project will involve head-to-head comparison pours of 32 tons of cellulosic nanomaterial-enhanced concrete alongside an equal amount of traditional concrete, according to the release. The long-term goal is to test how well the cellulosic nanomaterial compares to traditional concrete when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, materials used and cost.

Cellulosic nanomaterials are produced by breaking down wood to its tiniest, strongest components through mechanical and chemical processes similar to making paper, the news release said. A human hair is approximately 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide while cellulosic nanomaterials are approximately six nanometers wide, the release said.

At the nano scale, materials take on novel properties, Dr. Alan Rudie of the USDA, said in the release. In the case of cellulose, nanomaterials are as strong as steel with only one- fifth the weight. Among other features, they can reinforce transparent materials, he said.

“Researchers are testing these cellulosic nanomaterials in a wide range of applications from substrate for flexible computer chips, to composites for car and airplane bodies, lighter and stronger than steel,” Rudie said in the news release. “Our team expects that concrete will be among the first commercial applications.”

According to the press release, cellulosic nanomaterials could make production of concrete less energy intensive, reducing the industry’s carbon footprint, while also creating a market for the low-value wood used in its production. Removing low-value wood from the forest is desirable to forest managers, because it reduces wild fire risk, according to Rudie.

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