Skip to main content

Outstanding Research Support

Graduate student research efforts at N.C. State are aided by our strong emphasis on original research, outstanding research facilities and research centers devoted to biomaterials, bioenergy, wood, paper and pulp interests. These facilities include major laboratories and a wide array of state-of-the-art analytical equipment, including:

  • two high field NMRs
  • numerous GC, GPC and HPLC
  • a complete thermal analysis laboratory
  • polymer compounding and fiber spinning equipment
  • UV, NIR and FTIR spectrophotometers
  • two quartz crystal microbalance and an ellipsometer
  • an ultracentrifuge

Bench-top and small scale pilot plant equipment include:

  • pretreatments systems
  • digesters and fiber refiners for pulp and paper and bioenergy processes
  • two biomass pyrolysis units and a gasifier
  • a small scale biofuels pilot plant capable of conducting pretreatment, hydrolysis and fermentation operations
  • mechanical testing on biomaterials, wood laminates and composites
  • a size paper machine capable of making 12-inch wide paper
  • numerous smaller testing and environmental laboratories

We also have engineering process models powered by financial and life cycle software to quantitatively examine the complex trade-offs associated with the commercialization of new technology. We conduct detailed evaluation of the biomass supply chains, the biomass quality and reactivity and its performance in the conversion process, and the resulting environmental, financial, life cycle and social implications.

Other research open to graduate students include numerous other labs, NC State’s Centennial Campus facilities and the resources of the nearby Research Triangle Park.

The Role of Graduate Study In Our Research Program

For over 60 years ago the education of M.S. and Ph.D. scientists have been major components of FB’s history and mission. Our  research activity now covers the entire range of biomaterials and bioenergy products and processes, pulp and paper science and engineering sustainable wood products.

Over the past 25 years, our faculty and students have secured competitive grants from the USDA, DOE, NSF, EPA and industry totaling over $65 million dollars. In return, we have contributed knowledge to the public domain through more than 1,500 publications and patents. Graduate students have always played an important part in our success and continue to play a critical role in our ability to extend cutting-edge knowledge and discover new innovations in our fields.

Research Areas

In the past, FB graduate students have conducted research within a wide array of fields:

Biomaterials

Wood and renewable feedstock were two of the original sources of materials and chemicals for developing economies. Wood products, pine extractives for chemicals, wood alcohol (methanol) from dry distillation, cellulose ester plastics, furan resins and cellulose fibers are all made from wood.

We focus on understanding the fundamental sciences and applied engineering needed to create the next generation of sustainable materials. Examples include:

  • Production of super high-strength nanocellulose for reinforcing plastics and fibers, and rheology control
  • Isolation and upgrading of lignin for production of plastics, carbon fibers, stabilized emulsions, adhesives, and fuel additives
  • Formulation of natural polysaccharides into super absorbent foams and fibers
  • Hydrogels and membranes for waste water treatment and removal of heavy metals
  • Development of novel analytical methods for understanding the behavior of the cellulose, lignin and other biomass components
  • Conversion of natural proteins into surfactants and wet strength agents
  • Creation of tissue scaffolds

Bioenergy

The demand for sustainable sources of energy is a national and international priority. We are a leading University program focused on creating new bioenergy sources. This includes:

  • Creation of a series of industrial consortia with more than 40 companies evaluating new biofuels technology that could be integrated into a pulp and paper mill
  • Evaluation of low energy routes for producing bioethanol
  • Development of a fundamental understanding of the molecular and chemical features that control the enzymatic reactivity of cellulose substrates
  • Formulation of wood pellets and solid wood fuels with enhance properties
  • Generation of hydrocarbon fuels using wood gasification and pyrolysis
  • Integrated evaluation of the financial and life cycle implications of new biofuels processes

Paper Science and Engineering

Paper science and engineeringis a core strength of FB. We will always need paper for communications, packaging, hygiene and comfort. Research projects in Paper Science and Engineering include:

  • Wet strength agents for paper fiber and webs
  • Renewable proteins for removal of tacky materials in paper recycling
  • Bamboo and non-wood fibers for value-added products
  • Non-wood fibers for hygiene products in developing economies
  • New analytic methods to characterize cellulose and cellulose fiber surfaces

Sustainable Wood Materials and Technology

Wood is the original and ultimate sustainable material. But the performance demands on wood and other renewable materials have increased, while the quality of starting timber has decreased. Our research in sustainable wood materials and technology focuses on new wood materials, combinations of wood and non-wood materials, the integration of wood materials into durable, resilient structures, and new opportunities for wood products and residues. Research projects in Sustainable Wood Materials and Technology include:

  • New wood composites such and solid or hollow-core cross laminated timber panels
  • Sustainable supply chains and processes for solid wood fuels
  • Processing of wood and non-wood materials into value-added composites
  • Resilient housing and opportunities for enhanced performance
  • Marketing and business-to-business studies on wood and wood products

Please review Faculty Research for a listing of current research projects by faculty and graduate students.