University of Maine Process Development Center unveils thermoforming machine from Kiefel for renewable packaging research; the NATUREFORMER KFT machine can produce packaging from natural fibers, such as cellulose, straw or plants, instead of plastic

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February 15, 2022 (press release) –

Partnership with Kiefel brings state-of-the-art fiber thermoforming machine to Orono

 The University of Maine Process Development Center (PDC), long recognized for its expertise in processing fiber for pulp and paper applications, is now home to new equipment that will advance renewable packaging research significantly for Maine’s forest products industry.

Kiefel — an international leader in thermoforming and joining technology that is part of the Siegsdorf, Germany-based Brueckner Group — has selected UMaine as a key research partner to expand and accelerate its expertise in fiber thermoforming. Thermoforming is a manufacturing process, traditionally employed with plastics, that uses heat and pressure to form sheets of material into three-dimensional objects using a mold. With Kiefel’s fiber thermoforming machines, packaging can be manufactured from natural fibers such as cellulose, straw or plants instead of plastic.

Over the past three years, the company has developed its series of NATUREFORMER KFT machines to produce thermoformed packaging products made from natural plant fibers. UMaine is the first university in the United States to receive one of the machines for renewable packaging R&D.

“Kiefel and Brueckner have a long tradition of collaboration with educational institutions and we consider these partnerships vital to innovation,” says Matthias Sieverding, president and CEO of Brueckner Group U.S.A, which is headquartered in Portsmouth, N.H. “In recent years, Kiefel has invested significantly in the development of fiber thermoforming and we sought to work with UMaine because of their expertise in fiber processing and leadership in wood-based bioeconomy research and development. We’re particularly excited to see how UMaine researchers might employ nanocellulose to optimize the barrier properties of thermoformed fiber and help enhance product quality.”

The NATUREFORMER KFT Lab machine at PDC is a smaller version of Kiefel’s commercially available units, and is specifically designed for R&D and product development.

“This partnership is significant for both UMaine and the state of Maine,” says PDC director Colleen Walker. “With Kiefel’s NATUREFORMER, our researchers can explore new value-added uses for Maine wood fiber in sustainable packaging applications and PDC will meaningfully contribute to the growth of fiber thermoforming knowledge in Maine and beyond. We’re honored to be chosen as Kiefel’s first university partner in the U.S. and looking forward to working closely with the company to advance knowledge and support innovation.”

A recently announced $361,651 award from the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) will allow UMaine to establish a wood fiber thermoforming knowledge center at PDC with the NATUREFORMER machine from Kiefel as its centerpiece. Access to this equipment will offer researchers and PDC industry clients expanded opportunities for experimentation and new discoveries, and add to the R&D capabilities available through UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute. 

“Maine’s flagship research university is driving a range of bio-based material innovations that offer tremendous potential to grow Maine’s forest products industry and this award will help develop new capabilities in cutting-edge, sustainable manufacturing,” says Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

Contact: Ashley Forbes, ashley.forbes@maine.edu 

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