Nanocellulose and Concrete: A Happy Marriage


Cellulose is the most abundant material on Earth. If you take a very close look, perhaps with a magnifying glass, at some kinds of paper – for example, tissue or newsprint – you will be able to see tiny hair-like filaments. Those are pulp fibers made from cellulose. As we all learned in school, paper comes from wood, and wood is made up of tiny fibers made of cellulose that are glued together with other compounds called lignin and hemicellulose. Wood (and other cellulose-rich plants such as cotton) can be shredded into the tiny bits that contain long chains of cellulose polymers – repeating, end-to-end chains of sugar molecules that plants and trees make during the process of photosynthesis.

Clearly, because it is natural and does indeed grow on trees, cellulose is extremely abundant, renewable, and inexpensive. Plant/wood fiber have been added to cementitious materials for centuries for greater strength and durability in finished structures. Indeed, due to its many desirable features, natural cellulose fiber is still a popular and ubiquitous ingredient in the current manufacture of concrete. The advantages of natural cellulose as an additive in concrete include the ability to hold water to keep the cement hydrated during curing; uniform distribution when added to other substances; improvement in both tension resistance and compression resistance, which leads to crack resistance in the finished product; greater temperature resistance; and increased durability. However, adding whole wood or plant fibers has some disadvantages too: the alkaline cement tends to eat away the fiber surface, leading to some loss in strength over time.

The Debut of Nanocellulose

After millennia of adding plant fibers to concrete, a new and very exciting development in the history of cellulose has occurred in just the past 50 years. Cellulose fibers can be further and dramatically reduced in size to their smallest building block, nanocellulose. In its crystallized form, this substance appears as tiny rods that are about 50-300 nanometers (nm) in length and 5-20 nm wide.

FPL Researcher Dr. Nayomi Plaza Honored with HENAAC Great Minds in STEM Award

Dr. Nayomi Plaza
Materials Research Engineer
FPL, Wood, Fiber & Composites

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Dr. Nayomi Plaza was nominated by Dr. Ken Zwick, FPL Assistant Director of Wood, Fibers and Composites Research, for the 2022 HENAAC Great Minds in STEM Award. This summer, Dr. Plaza was among the Class of 2022 GMiS professional award winners for “Most Promising Scientist – Ph.D.”

“Dr. Plaza has stood out as a committed, engaged, and brilliant scientist working to make the world more sustainable by showing how wood can reduce our dependence on greenhouse gas intensive materials like concrete, steel, and plastic. I have been particularly impressed with her scientific output, her leadership, and her commitment to a better future,” stated Zwick in Plaza’s nomination letter.

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Brazilian Scientists Thrive Professionally Through Partnership Between FPL and MSU

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), in cooperation with Mississippi State University (MSU), has developed a strong graduate education and research program over the past several years that has attracted outstanding scholars from South America. Many have completed graduate degrees and are now providing leadership in academic, research and industry programs, both here in the United States and abroad.

“I’m very proud of the strong partnership between FPL and MSU,” said Rubin Shmulsky, professor and head of the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts at Mississippi State University. “It’s humbling for me to be a part of this team’s efforts to attract and train the next generation of diverse professionals and leaders in support of sustainable forest products research and development.” 

Two Brazilian scientists are excellent examples of how effective this relationship is.

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FPL Scientist Hongmei Gu Earns Research Award

Research Scientist Hongmei Gu receives the L.J. Markwardt Wood Engineering Award from Justin Price, President of the Forest Products Society.

Research Scientist Hongmei Gu has recently been named as the winner of the L.J. Markwardt Award for 2022.

At the awards luncheon on June 15 of this year’s 75th Annual Forest Products Society International Conference, Hongmei received a beautiful plaque and an award check for $1,000.

“This is a total surprise to me!” said Hongmei in her acceptance speech. “I didn’t even know about the award until I heard I’d gotten it. I really, really appreciate this.”

The L.J. Markwardt Wood Engineering Award is intended to encourage research and promote knowledge of wood in the engineering field as a means of enhancing the efficient use of wood. This Award was established in 1969 by L.J. Markwardt, a Charter member of the Forest Products Society, who was for many years an Assistant Director at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, in charge of Wood Engineering Research. 

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FPL 2021 Wood Handbook Easily Accessed

All chapters of the Forest Products Laboratory’s 2021 Wood Handbook are available online. You can choose specific chapters from the handbook to view here.

Wood handbook: Wood as an engineering material 

Chapter 1 Wood as a renewable and sustainable resource Brashaw, Brian; Bergman, Richard

Keywords: wood; forestry; forest certification; carbon; LCA; stocks; sustainability; healthy forests; construction; buildings

File size: 2 MB

Chapter 2 Characteristics and availability of commercially important woods Wiemann, Michael

Keywords: Wood anatomy; wood identification; species descriptions; species uses

File size: 25.6 MB

Chapter 3 Structure and function of wood Wiedenhoeft, Alex; Eberhardt, Thomas

Keywords: wood biology; wood chemistry; wood anatomy; wood identification

File size: 8 MB

Chapter 4 Moisture relations and physical properties of wood Glass, Samuel; Zelinka, Samuel

Keywords: wood; moisture; water; water vapor; sorption; adsorption; absorption; moisture content; fiber saturation point; physical properties; density; specific gravity; dimensional stability; shrinkage; swelling; thermal properties; thermal conductivity; heat capacity; electrical properties

File size: 2 MB

Chapter 5 Mechanical properties of wood Senalik, Christopher Adam; Farber, Benjamin

Keywords: mechanical properties; wood; tension; compression; shear; bending; hardness; moisture; hardwoods; softwoods

File size: 5 MB

Chapter 6 Commercial lumber, round timbers, and ties Senalik, Christopher Adam; Farber, Benjamin

Keywords: lumber; grades; dimensions; grading agencies; poles; piles; ties; finished market products

File size: 2 MB

Chapter 7 Stress grades and design properties for lumber, round timber, and ties Senalik, Christopher Adam; Farber, Benjamin

Keywords: lumber grading; size adjustment; moisture adjustment

File size: 1 MB

Chapter 8 Fastenings Rammer, Douglas

Keywords: fastenings; nails; spikes; staples; bolts; screws; withdrawal resistance; metal plate connectors

File size: 4 MB

Chapter 9 Structural analysis equations Lo Ricco, Marco; Amini, Mohamed Omar; Rammer, Douglas

Keywords: structural analysis; wood beams; columns; built-up sections

File size: 3 MB

Chapter 10  Wood adhesives: bond formation and performance Frihart, Charles; Hunt, Christopher

Keywords: wood bonding; wood adhesives

File size: 2 MB

Chapter 11 Wood-based composite materials: panel products, glued laminated timber, structural composite lumber, and wood–nonwood composites Stark, Nicole; Cai, Zhiyong

Keywords: wood composites; cellulose nanocomposites; composite lumber; manufacturing; identification

File size: 5 MB

Chapter 12 Mechanical properties of wood-based composite materials Cai, Zhiyong; Senalik, Christopher Adam; Ross, Robert

Keywords: Wood-based; composite; mechanical properties; structural panel; industrial panel; structural lumber

File size: 423 KB

Chapter 13 Drying and control of moisture content and dimensional changes Bergman, Richard

Keywords: wood drying; wood stain; drying methods; moisture control; determination; wood defects; shrinkage; humidity; EMC; equilibrium moisture content

File size: 3 MB

Chapter 14 Biodeterioration of wood Arango, Rachel; Lebow, Stan; Glaeser, Jessie A.

Keywords: Fungi; insects; mold; bacteria; marine borers

File size: 6 MB

Chapter 15 Wood preservatives Kirker, Grant T.; Lebow, Stan

Keywords: Wood preservation; pressure treatment; disposal; usage guidelines

File size: 2 MB

Chapter 16 Finishing wood Hunt, Christopher

Keywords: finishes; wood; coatings

File size: 14 MB

Chapter 17 Use of wood in buildings and bridges Wacker, James

Keywords: wood; bridge; building; structural; thermal; moisture; sound

File size: 4 MB

Chapter 18 Fire safety of wood construction Dietenberger, Mark; Hasburgh, Laura, E..; Yedinak, Kara

Keywords: Fire performance; wood; char; ignition; flame spread; wildland urban interface; home ignition zone; flammability

File size: 1 MB

Chapter 19 Specialty treatments Ibach, Rebecca

Keywords: Plasticizing wood; wood modification; laminates

File size: 744 KB

Chapter 20 Heat sterilization of wood Wang, Xiping

Keywords: heat treatment; heating times; invasive species; pest; lumber; timber; treatment schedule

File size: 1 MB