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Source: University of Guelph

New Arboretum Bridge is A World First

October 27, 2006

The world’s first footbridge made of wood fibre and plastic composites will be unveiled at the University of Guelph's Arboretum Oct. 30.

Media are invited to see the bridge and talk to its designers and University officials during a "ribbon cutting" ceremony at 4 p.m. The footbridge is located on the south side of College Avenue (across from the R.J. Hilton Centre) and west of Victoria Road.

The new bridge installed in the Arboretum was made by Burgess Bridge Co. in Hamilton. Its floorboards, uprights and arched railings consist of 70-per-cent polypropylene (the same plastic used in soft-drink bottles) and 30-per-cent wood fibre. The 10-metre-long bridge weighs about 2,800 pounds and is supported by concrete footings.

Donated to U of G, the structure is intended to carry pedestrians over a stream on the property, but it’s also a symbol of steps by University scientists toward developing a research centre in bioproducts or new products made from farm-crop materials.

Prof. Larry Erickson of the Department of Plant Agriculture is leading a four-year $750,000 project funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to develop novel materials from major Ontario crop plants. This bioproducts research program is investigating ways to replace wood fibre and petroleum-based materials with agricultural fibre for a variety of uses in decking, siding, auto parts, landscaping, furniture, films and biomedical devices.

>From virtually nothing 10 years ago, sales of wood fibre/plastic composites have grown to North American sales of more than $2 billion a year and are expected to reach $3.5 billion by 2009, said project partner Frank Maine, a plastics engineer and president of a Guelph-based consulting company.

Under the research program begun last year, scientists at Guelph and at the universities of Waterloo and Toronto are studying biocomposites made from crop fibres, mostly wheat straw, soy residue and corn stalks. Those three crops make up about 80 per cent of farm crops grown in Ontario.

Bioproducts made from local renewable farm crops and crop waste are expected to yield new recyclable materials that take less energy to make than petroleum-based products. A planned pilot manufacturing facility to develop materials and test products will be run by a new company called GAP-C (Guelph Agricultural Fibre/Plastic Composites).

The team plans to investigate uses of farm crop waste to make strong but lightweight materials and products for farm applications from grape vine support stakes and fencing to livestock pens and stalls.

"We’re trying to add value to Ontario agriculture," said Leonardo Simon, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Waterloo."We take material from the field, process it and bring it back to the farmers. The farmers benefit two-fold."

U of G researchers in the Department of Plant Agriculture, the School of Landscape Architecture and the School of Engineering will also conduct studies at the University’s research stations and satellite campuses across Ontario.

"There’s no other university in Canada with an agricultural college with such a multidisciplinary bioproducts emphasis," said Erickson.

He says the collaboration illustrates bridge-building between academics and industry in developing new products and in adding value to agricultural materials. Referring to his industry partners, he said: "That’s the kind of linkage we need at the University of Guelph. We can’t do it by ourselves. We need links from that bale of straw in the field to a part in a car or in a bridge."

The project will also provide graduate student training at the partner universities. U of G plans to appoint a bioproducts research chair next year.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.



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