top of page

USDA ARS team awarded for their new development in the creation of nanocellulose following the HEG process.

The USDA ARSX team was awarded for their development of an entirely new nanocellulose production process with the use of Hughes Energy | Wilson System steam autoclave. Nanocellulose is a biodegradable product with unique properties suitable for a variety of applications from consumer packaging and medical devices to automative components.

Its successful research was one of three awarded in this year's ARSX2022 Innovations for a Circular Economy in Agriculture challenge. The "Universal Waste Conversion for Circular Economy" project was lead by:

James McManus, PhD, MBA, Gabriel Patterson, PhD, William Orts, Dane McSpedon, and Saira Nazneen. 

One of the first products HEG plans to use nanocellulose for is cardboard boxes. It could replace existing petrochemical-based products that line cardboard, making it lighter and firmer. With further work, the nanocellulose could also be a component of other products, like single-use paper plates and food packaging liners. That change could have real ramifications for human health.

About the challenge

This year's ARSX challenge centered around circular economies for agriculture and food systems. It is open to ARS scientists and post-doctoral fellows to help them develop and test bold and aspirational ideas. The ideas presented serve as an initiative to repurpose organic waste and maximize the use of and protect our natural resources.


Household waste continues to affect families and communities long after its picked up by local haulers. It has a long journey through municipal transfer stations and eventually to incinerators, which emit more toxins and pollutants that harm local air quality, and/or landfills. Organic waste in landfills slowly degrade into methane, a planet-warming greenhouse gas that is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

There has been several developments in the diversion organic waste from landfill to reuse it as compost or biofuel. ARSX allows scientists to propose innovative, high-risk ideas that cross disciplines and break boundaries to solve our most pressing challenges.

15 percent of methane emissions globally are from rotting organic matter in landfills. Our process essentially gives organic material a second life. We put it into other products that displace the need for fossil fuels or cutting down trees... in essence turning a problem into a product.

  Dane McSpedon, CEO of HEG  

The steam treatment is the only preprocessing necessary for the pre-pulped waste fibers before their conversion into nanocellulose. Compare this to existing nanocellulose synthesis processes requiring the harvest, transport, size reduction, and cellulose purification of raw plant materials residues. We anticipate that the Hughes system can both reduce economic barriers to nanocellulose production and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from landfilling municipal solid waste.

 Gabriel Patterson, PhD, USDA Research Chemist   

HEG and USDA collaborate in award-winning research on applications of Wilson Fibre®

Hughes Energy Group is proud to be working with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) on the development of nanocellulose from Wilson Fibre® following the HEG process.

Its successful research was one of three awarded in this year's ARSX Innovations for a Circular Economy in Agriculture challenge.

bottom of page