IPST Welcomes USFS’ Robert Moon

Dr. Robert Moon, a USFS Materials Research Engineer, joined Georgia Tech in September on assignment to further advance technology development in cellulose nanomaterials (CNs).  Dr. Moon will be housed in IPST’s Paper Tricentennial Building.   This assignment, following a six-year similar arrangement at Purdue University, reflects the importance that the USFS places on the potential of nanocellulose technology to further the USFS’ goal to fully utilize its renewable resources.  The United States Forest Service-Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) has a long history of collaboration with the paper industry to develop innovative new science and technologies related to wood utilization, nanotechnology, and cellulose-based composites.

Dr. Moon says that IPST is a logical next stop for the USFS to expand its work in cellulose nanomaterials.  He successfully built a cellulose nanomaterials program at Purdue University, and now is an opportune time to explore new capabilities and interest in renewable materials.  “Georgia Tech is the place to go for its atmosphere of highly driven and exceptional students, scientists and faculty, combined with Georgia Tech’s unique infrastructure comprised of specialized research centers and institutes,” he observes.  Of particular importance is the need to have paper and cellulose experts close at hand, with an intimate knowledge of lignocellulosic materials and their chemistry.  He hopes to be a “boots-on-the-ground” resource and encourage research across multiple disciplines to advance science in cellulose nanomaterials leading to the creation of new and improved products.  

In addition to IPST, Dr. Moon will also work closely with other centers and institutes at Georgia Tech and with other universities and institutions within the region.   Though his primary focus will be on cellulose nanomaterials, Dr. Moon will also explore the nanotechnology aspects of other tree components including lignin and hemicellulose. 

Cellulose nanomaterials are a promising class of nanomaterials that can be produced by the further refining of cellulose pulp fibers using various combinations of mechanical, chemical and biological treatment.  The extracted cellulose particles are nanometer size in at least one of their dimensions (e.g. 4-50 nanometers in diameter and up to several microns in length), can be nearly pure cellulose, can have a high percent crystallinity, and a surface chemistry consisting primarily of hydroxyl groups (-OH).   The resulting CNs have relatively high aspect ratios (10-100), high surface area-to-volume ratio, high mechanical properties, low coefficient of thermal expansion, and low density.  The exposed –OH side groups on CN surfaces can be readily modified to achieve different surface properties.   These unique set of characteristics represent a “building block” with new capabilities that can be used in the development of new advanced composites.  

Cellulose nanomaterials have some additional advantages.   The small size results in diminished light scattering (as compared to pulp fibers) allowing for the processing of transparent papers and composites.   Preliminary studies have indicated low environmental, health, and safety risks of cellulose nanomaterials. Additionally, cellulose nanomaterials are inherently renewable, sustainable, biodegradable, and carbon-neutral, like the sources from which they are extracted, and they have the potential to be processed at industrial scale quantities and at low cost.  Similar to paper, cellulose nanomaterials are an opportunity for the production of environmentally friendly composite structures at quantities large enough to address societal needs.  Cellulose nanomaterials further extend the utility of cellulose-based materials into an ever-widening range of consumer products from new packaging/barrier applications to electronics (e.g. flexible circuits), energy (e.g. flexible solar panels), and defense (e.g. body armor, transparent armor).

Dr. Moon received his PhD in Materials Engineering and his MS in Metallurgical Engineering at Purdue University.  He received his BS in Metallurgical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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