Renewable Bioproducts Institute
Georgia Tech's Evolution of Paper Science to Renewable Bioproducts
Hiking in the woods offers a great opportunity for exercise and a break from everyday pressures, but few of us would stop mid-trek to consider how crucial forests really are in making modern human life possible. The world’s forests are vital for not only maintaining a healthy global environment, but also for providing invaluable resources to generate energy, produce food and pharmaceuticals, and provide many other critical resources.
As a preeminent technological research university, Georgia Tech is playing a leadership role in developing and refining forest product technologies and best practices.
Georgia Tech helped the state of Georgia transition from the agricultural to the industrial to the digital age.
Now, the Institute is using its interdisciplinary approach to scholarship and its strengths in critical thinking and problem solving to advance the biorefining of forest and agricultural biomass. This will be achieved by creating market-disruptive new bioproducts and biochemicals while expanding the value and applications of existing products.
Located at Georgia Tech, the Institute of Paper Science and Technology’s (IPST) strategic initiatives are rooted in and expand upon nearly 85 years of expertise in pulp- and paper-focused research. This research encompasses a broader range of biochemical and bioproducts from a more comprehensive range of renewable raw materials.
The forest industry contributes approximately $29 billion to Georgia’s economy.
With this industry in the midst of radical change, IPST is evolving to support the paper industry’s expanded interest in developing new technologies and adapting current technologies to meet future needs.
In addition to business and technical solutions, Georgia Tech is developing the next generation of leadership for the forest and bioproducts industry through graduate programs in paper science and engineering.
In recognition of the evolution and expansion of its mission,
the Institute of Paper Science and Technology is changing its name
to the Renewable Bioproducts Institute.
What Are Renewable Bioproducts?
Bio-based products from forests, agriculture, and algae are among the many renewable resources. Georgia Tech’s Renewable Bioproducts Institute will create new products and processes that will provide new and improved materials such as nanocellulosic and natural fibers, biofuels from bio-derived oils and gasses, food products, biochemicals, and pharmaceuticals.
Evolving to meet industry needs, Georgia Tech’s RBI has research and development capabilities that build on the Institute’s strategic resources and foster collaborations with other academic institutions and industry partners.
Besides ongoing studies in materials, recent research discoveries have resulted in hybrid fuel cells that can produce electricity directly from biomass, paper that repels liquid, and woody agricultural waste products that have commercial value.
Researchers Convert Basic Discoveries in Materials Science and Engineering to Real-World Applications
When scientists and engineers use the word materials, they mean any naturally occurring substance manipulated by humans to make things. Beginning with the first metals, discovered by trial and error thousands of years ago, the drive to develop materials that better serve human needs has played a central role in the rise of complex societies.
Today, researchers have moved past haphazard experimentation to examining materials at every level – from the nanoscale to the visible and tangible macroscale – to understand why a material behaves as it does.
Although low-temperature fuel cells powered by methanol or hydrogen have been well studied, existing low-temperature fuel cell technologies cannot directly use biomass as a fuel because of the lack of an effective catalyst system for polymeric materials.
Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a new type of low-temperature fuel cell that directly converts biomass to electricity with assistance from a catalyst activated by solar or thermal energy. The hybrid fuel cell can use a wide variety of biomass sources, including starch, cellulose, lignin (and even switchgrass), powdered wood, algae, and waste from poultry processing.
Paper is known for its ability to absorb liquids, making it ideal for products such as paper towels. But by modifying the underlying network of cellulose fibers, etching off surface “fluff,” and applying a thin chemical coating, researchers have created a new type of paper that repels a wide variety of liquids – including water and oil.
The paper takes advantage of the so-called “lotus effect” – used by leaves of the lotus plant – to repel liquids through the creation of surface patterns at two different size scales and the application of a chemical coating. The material, developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology, uses nanometer- and micron-scale structures, plus a surface fluorocarbon, to turn old-fashioned paper into an advanced material.
When making cellulosic ethanol from plants, one problem is what to do with a woody agricultural waste product called lignin. The old adage in the pulp industry has been that one can make anything from lignin except money. A new review article in the journal Science points the way toward a future where lignin is transformed from a waste product into valuable materials such as low-cost carbon fiber for cars or bio-based plastics. Using lignin in this way would create new markets for the forest products industry and make ethanol-to-fuel.