Skip to main content

Meet Forest Biomaterials Professor Kai Lan

Kai Lan has joined the NC State College of Natural Resources as an assistant professor of sustainability science and engineering in the Department of Forest Biomaterials.

After obtaining his Ph.D. in forest biomaterials from NC State in 2020, Lan completed nearly three years of postdoctoral research at Yale University’s Center for Industrial Ecology.

“Returning to NC State was a decision deeply rooted in both my professional ambition and personal choice,” Lan said. “My academic journey here laid the foundational stones of my passion and purpose.”

Lan’s area of expertise is industrial ecology. He uses artificial intelligence, life cycle assessment and other research methods to evaluate and improve the sustainability of industrial systems and the built environment related to bioenergy and biomaterials.

Industrial ecology is a multidisciplinary field of research that focuses on the use of technology to reduce environmental impacts and reconcile human development with environmental stewardship while recognizing the importance of socioeconomic factors in achieving these goals.

In a study published in the Green Chemistry journal in February 2024, for example, Lan and his collaborators from NC State and Yale University developed a modeling framework to identify more sustainable and lower-cost pathways for nanomaterial production.

He is currently leading a project to explore similar pathways for the production of polylactic acid, a type of bioplastic that could potentially replace traditional plastic, from different waste biomass feedstocks.

“The novelty of this project relies on the holistic analysis at the intersection of technologies to identify conversion pathways to efficiently convert waste biomass into polylactic acid,” Lan said.

He added, “Conversion economics and environmental impact analyses will inform the stakeholders and decision-makers of the performance of the production pathways and conversion steps that are the major drivers.”

In addition to his research, Lan will serve as lead instructor for several courses in the Department of Forest Biomaterials. That includes PSE476/FB576: Environmental Life Cycle Analysis in the fall 2024 semester and the SMT483 capstone course in the spring 2025 semester.