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History of the Forest Products Laboratory

Interview #931: Rowell, Rowell (June, 2009)

View all of First Interview Session (June 4, 2008)

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00:25:02 - 00:28:00 Use Of Agricultural Fibers, Jute Industry

Use of agricultural fibers, jute industry; collaboration, United Nations, India, revitalization; composite materials

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00:25:02

AP

And you did this kind of work as a representative of the Lab through---as an extension of your work?

RR

Yes it was part of my work. I always traveled as an employee of the Laboratory. One other thing that I can add is that one of the things that I brought to the Lab, not necessarily with their blessing, was that I made a statement one time at a conference that wood fiber comes in two lengths: short and even shorter. So if you want to get into mats, to make three-dimensional composites, you have to combine it with an agricultural fiber that's longer. And so I started working with agricultural fibers, realizing that while we were the Forest Service we were part of the Department of Agriculture and agriculture was in charge of all agriculture, not just trees. And so I brought, I think to the Laboratory, a wider understanding of the possibilities of biomaterials using agricultural materials and as a result of that I started working with things like jute and kenaf and bagasse and so on. Through that linkage I got a call one day from the United Nations in New York, would I be interested in working on a project in India revitalizing the jute industry? That was, I think, in 1992 and I went to New York, met with the U.N. and the World Bank, and was involved in a four year, 46 million dollar project to revitalize the jute industry in India. I was in India I think seven times over four years and was an incredible experience. To actually see how people live in Calcutta, in Mumbai, then Bombay, and then to work with industry, to build a composite industry in India from nothing, with very little understanding of the raw material and then to watch several industries grow from this U.N., World Bank effort.

AP

How do you spell jute?

RR

J-U-T-E.

AP

Okay that's what I thought.

RR

The golden fiber of India, been used for hundreds of years. We know it better as gunnysacks, twine, or carpets. All of those markets have been lost and so they were looking to revitalize it, if we're not going to make binder twine, or gunnysacks, or backing for carpeting, what are we going to use it for, and so I was there to get it into fiberboard, three-dimensional composites. We made break linings, all sorts of things from a biodegradable, carbon sequestered, new natural resource. So it was a very challenging and interesting project.

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