Maine Forest Bioproducts and Biotechnology

Wood fibre in the market place - researching for a new era A curriculum designed and written by Maine educators.

Here in Maine, an exciting new era in forest bioproducts and biotechnology has emerged during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, one that brings change to some industrial practices of the past while still allowing the traditional forest products industry to maintain its foothold throughout the state.   At the University of Maine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative (FBRI), the largest research initiative in the state’s history, researchers are striving to create a commercially viable, wood-based biorefinery that can separate chipped wood into its components and produce valuable chemicals and extractives.  If successful, this biorefinery will be sited within the walls of existing, forest products manufacturing facilities such as pulp mills, providing added value to processes that have been in place for decades.     

FBRI's Vision:
To advance understanding about the scientific underpinnings, system behavior,
and policy implications for the production of forest-based bioproducts that meet
societal needs for materials, chemicals and fuels in an economically and ecologically
sustainable manner.

In 2006, UMaine received a $6.9 million award from the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The Maine TREE Foundation and Maine PLT received funding from this project to train and inform Maine teachers about the research at UMaine. Running parallel with this project, National PLT was developing a Biotechnology/RISK curriculum.

To familiarize Maine’s middle, high school and early college students with FBRI’s work, Maine Project Learning Tree (PLT) created these five lesson sequences.  Linked as supplements to the National PLT Biotechnology curriculum, the goal of these lessons is two-fold:  to deepen students’ content understanding and process skills in science while at the same time introducing students to biotechnological and other scientific and technological advancements taking place at FBRI.  

These lessons use biotechnology and forest bioproducts as a window through which secondary students investigate current field research.  Educators and students can step back from specific issues and examine broader concepts and larger connections—not just biological, but social, ethical, and economic as well.  Students will learn that decisions about scientific research, alternative energy use and forest products rest to some extent on perspectives from a large community working together to explore, experiment and create new solutions that address current societal needs.

Maine Forest Bioproducts and Biotechnology was developed by Maine Project Learning Tree (PLT) in partnership with the Maine TREE Foundation, National PLT, Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative (FBRI) and NSF/EPSCoR.  Educators are permitted to download, print, and use any of the following online materials.

Comments from teachers who piloted lessons:

 “Lesson Three provides a good model for a cumulative, capstone, or semester-long project. It could also take the place of a traditional science-fair project or experiment.”   C.Kropp, Washington Academy, Machias

“I was pleased with the student response to Lesson 5 despite being taught at the end of the school year. It was a great opportunity for students to discuss systems and how parts of a system affect the whole.” M. Greaves, CSD #9, Aroostook County

Project Learning Tree® (PLT) is an award winning, multi-disciplinary environmental education program for educators and students in PreK-grade 12. PLT is a program of the American Forest Foundation. It is one of the most widely used environmental education programs in the United States and abroad, and continues to set the standard for environmental education excellence. PLT helps students learn how to think, not what to think, about the environment.  

Photo: Wood fibre in the market place - researching for a new era