University of Maine students walk across the campus' mall in October of 2019. Credit: Courtesy of University of Maine

The University of Maine is the first university in the United States to receive a new, experimental renewable packaging manufacturing machine.

The machine, which is made by Kiefel, a Germany-based company that is working to integrate natural fibers into traditional plastic manufacturing processes, will allow the UMaine Processing Development Center to work with natural substances to create environmentally friendly products.

The machine will use a process called thermoforming, which is used to melt and form plastics into everyday products, such as cups and plates. Rather than using plastic, researchers with the university will be able to use natural materials such as wood pulp, plant fibers or straw to make products.

“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,” said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

This experimental research could be used to add value to Maine’s forest product manufacturing practices and could be a way to bring sustainable products into the mainstream.

The award comes just after the University of Maine was recognized as one of the nation’s top-tier research universities.

UMaine said on Feb. 3 that it has been ranked as an “R1” university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The designation means that there has been “very high research activity” at the Orono university in recent years, and it represents the highest tier a doctoral research university can achieve in the Carnegie Classification.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.