Dwindling petroleum, natural gas and coal supplies have inspired scientists to search long and hard for an environmentally viable alternative to these resources. One of the most promising areas in this regard is the emerging science of producing materials and energy from biomass, especially the forest biomass. These trees are typically purposefully grown pines or hardwoods that are designed for efficient conversion into wood, fiber, materials and energy. Forest wastes and dedicated forests can become a source products such as bioplastics, chemicals, biofuels, bioenergy, pharmaceuticals and more. Advancements in the use of forest biomaterials could also significantly improve the economics of the wood products, paper and pulp industries by leading to new sources of raw materials and other innovations. But developing viable applications for forest biomaterials will first require research into efficient ways to sustain and harvest them as well as the development of new ways to convert biomass into fuels and basic materials. This effort will require the cooperation of foresters and molecular biologists to produce improve wood resources, and chemists, process engineers, and business analysts to make the science into business reality.
FB is playing its part in this movement by taking the lead in encouraging interdisciplinary research and education efforts toward a viable biomaterials and bioenergy industry. We have partnered with North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to establish BioSucceed, a center of excellence in biomass, bioenergy and bioproduct education. This initiative includes major research efforts and biomass and bioproduct-related courses for both undergraduate and graduate students. BioSucceed also offers research and internship opportunities for students who want to help produce the next generation of renewable materials, chemicals and energy sources for the world of tomorrow.
Current research is focused on extracting the highest possible sustainable value from the forest biomass. Our goal is to provide industries with new ways to compete while maximizing the use of the world’s resources and protecting the environment. We are working on fundamental biomaterials science, chemical transformations of wood and wood components, applied aspects of materials processing, and the technology and engineering needed for production of energy from wood and other biomass resources.
The department is also playing a leadership role in two projects that will design and construct pilot plants for the production of liquid fuels from forest biomass. The first is a bioethanol pilot plant, funded in part by the Golden Leaf Foundation, which will demonstrate the latest science and technology for converting biomass resources like wood, agricultural wastes and perennial crops into ethanol. The second is a gasification pilot plant being built with Research Triangle Institute and the University of Utah to process wood and agricultural residues into liquid fuels.
Just as we do in other related areas of study, we intend to make sure our commitment to forest biomaterials extends beyond scientific research. We will remain aware of and help to shape public policy, public understanding and consumer use of the techniques and products made possible by this promising new area of science. One way we will do that is to continue to publish our open access and peer-reviewed BioResources, an on-line journal that promotes scientific discourse and fosters scientific developments related to sustainable manufacturing of products from lignocellulosic or woody resources, including crop residues.