January and February Research Awards and Grants



Gopher Tortoise Habitat – Longleaf Pine Ecosystem Monitoring

In this study we propose to evaluate forest establishment and maintenance practices implemented as part of the Longleaf Pine Initiative and Working Lands for Wildlife. Sites will be chosen to represent a range of longleaf pine forest ages and planting densities, including seedling planting rates recommended for the establishment of gopher tortoise habitat (450-600 per acre) and rates recommended for timber and/or pine straw production (600-900 per acre). We will measure forest condition and habitat quality to assess if a threshold exists for balancing habitat and timber quality. The results will be used to quantify the benefit of NRCS past conservation efforts and to estimate the potential impact of future work across the gopher tortoise range.

PI: Forrester Jodi, Forestry and Environmental Resources

Sponsor(s): US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

Amount Awarded: $150,000.00


Toward an Understanding of the Enhancement of Biomass Reactivity via Mechanical Refining

The goal of the project is to enhance a fundamental understanding of biomass structure changes caused by mechanical refining, considering disk plate design and energy consumption. Specifically, our objectives are (1) to evaluate biomass reactivity measured by enzymatic hydrolysis for different fiber fractions (e.g. long fiber, short fiber, fine) and (2) investigate the impact of refiner plate design on fiber structure. The comparison will be conducted at the same energy consumption basis. Outcomes from the project will not only contribute biochemical conversion (low-cost sugar production), but also other applications where the refining technology can be implemented such as nano-cellulose and dissolving pulp production.

PI(s): Park Sunkyu, Forest Biomaterials; Venditti Richard A, Forest Biomaterials; Jameel Hasan, Forest Biomaterials                                                 

Sponsor(s): University of Tennessee, US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)              

Amount Awarded: $48,000.00


Development of High Valued Hydrogels from Hemicellulose      

The goal of this research is to improve the  performance of hemicellulose-based hydrogels as a gelling agent, superabsorbent and microbead.  An economic flexible and efficacious process will be developed to produce hemicellulose-based hydrogels for extraction from wood. Sub-objectives of the research include: (1) determine the effect of processes and conditions on the properties of hemicellulose-based hydrogel, (2) determine the effect of modification of hemicellulose and crosslinking level of hemicellulose hydrogel on the performance of gelling agent, superabsorbent and microbeads and (3) determine the effect of application environment (pH, aqueous salt concentration, and temperature) on the performance of the hydrogel.

PI(s): Venditti Richard A, Forest Biomaterials; Pawlak Joel J, Forest Biomaterials                                             

Sponsor(s): University of Tennessee, US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)  

Amount Awarded: $48,000.00


Holistic Assessment of End of Life Options of Cotton for Environmental and Economic Sustainability in the Promotion of Cotton Recycling

Increasing consumers’ awareness of the environment and sustainability drives the development of more environmentally friendly products across almost every industrial sector. Recycling and closing the material loop (so-called “circular economy”) is a strong and growing trend. This project aims to identify promising applications for recycled cotton with low environmental footprints, desirable life-cycle costs, and high market and technical potential.

PI(s): Yao Yuan, Forest Biomaterials; Venditti Richard A, Forest Biomaterials

Direct Sponsor: Cotton, Inc.

Amount Awarded: $70,000.00


Prescribed Fire and Air Quality Coordination to Minimize Smoke Impacts

Managing fire adapted species, such as longleaf and shortleaf pine, properly with prescribed fire not only helps restore the ecosystems, but yields associated benefits such as reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, thereby protecting air quality, and improving wildlife habitat for game, at-risk, and endangered species. The Comprehensive Strategy for Prescribed Fire was written to fulfill the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability’s (SERPPAS) Strategic Action Plan goal of developing a comprehensive, regional strategy for increasing prescribed burning in the Southeast. NCSU Extension will continue to effectively implement the Prescribed Fire Strategy through coordination, outreach, and education. NCSU Extension will work with the SERPPAS Prescribed Fire Work Group, the Southern Group of State Fire Chiefs, the Environmental Protection Agency, state air quality representatives, the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils, or others to minimize local smoke impacts on air quality and public health and safety and maximize coordination between air and fire communities.

PI(s): Bardon Robert, Forestry and Environmental Resources; Evans Jennifer L, Forestry and Environmental Resources

Sponsor: NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)

Amount Awarded: $5,000.00


Biomass Torrefaction with Supercritical CO2

With the advent of supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) being used for power generation it is believed that the exhaust from the sCO2 turbine (>500oC, and pressures of >103 bar) can be used to extract value-added materials from biomass and to leave the extracted biomass more amenable to mechanical pulping. The remaining torrefied wood can be cofired with coal to provide fuel with a lower net carbon footprint. This work will help explore the broad feasibility of this approach by addressing the following questions.

PI: Hakovirta Marko, Forest Biomaterials

Sponsor(s): Leonardo Technologies, Inc., US Department of Energy (DOE)

Amount Awarded: $30,000.00


Characterization of Residual Xylan in Dissolving Pulps

The discovery of cellulose acetate has been more than 100 years. During the time, it has found growing acceptance in various application fields. Optical application of cellulose acetate is one of the fast growing markets and its quality control is critical. Although the content of residual xylan in dissolving pulp is low, it could be problematic when the product is in application. Therefore a full characterization of residual xylan in dissolving pulp is an important first step to overcome this issue. In this work, we will extract residual xylan from dissolving pulp, derivatize it, and analyze its chemical and structural features. In addition, we will image xylan spatial distribution using fluorescent technique.

PI(s): Park Sunkyu, Forest Biomaterials; Kelley Stephen S, Forest Biomaterials

Sponsor: Eastman Chemical Company

Amount Awarded: $50,000.00


Water sampling of post-hurricane Florence floodwater samples for the human foodborne pathogens Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter

Hurricane Florence made landfall on the North Carolina coast on September 14, 2018, and in the subsequent days several North Carolina communities received up to 35 inches of rain. Inland rivers did not crest until a week post-landfall, but the extent of cresting was unprecedented. The heavy rainfall and flooding can massively impact water quality and safety in flooded areas, especially via runoff from agricultural and industrial operations. We propose to analyze floodwater samples collected by the hydrology and civil engineering teams led by Ryan Emanuel and Angela Harris at North Carolina State University for prevalence of the human foodborne pathogens Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter. These pathogens will be also characterized for species designations and, in the case of Listeria, for serotypes. The data will complement those from the other team members who will monitor source-specific fecal indicators, Escherichia coli, and chemical contaminants in these samples.

PI(s): Kathariou Sophia, Food, Bioprocessing & Nutrition Science (CALS); Emanuel Ryan E, Forestry and Environmental Resources; Harris Angela Rose, Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering (COE); Kearns Joshua Perry, Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering (COE)

Sponsor: International Life Sciences Institute

Amount Awarded: $5,425.00 COE


The Sociohydrological System of a Tropical Forest Frontier: Land-Climate-Water Feedbacks and Farmer Adaptation

The hydro-climatic system in the Amazon is affected by and affects land use in agricultural colonization settlements. We assess whether this is a reinforcing or balancing feedback loop operating through availability of green (soil moisture) and/or blue (surface water) water. Specifically, we test how spatio-temporal variation in green and blue water affects choices about farm production systems including land use intensity, and how the aggregation of those choices in turn affects the hydro-climatic system. We employ models that account for the effects of climate change on the hydro-climatic system, and for interactions among farmers and processors in the evolution of land use. We draw on panel data that allow us to model the dynamics of choices about production systems. Our two endpoints are the availability of green and blue water, and the welfare of farm households in the Amazon.

PI: Sills Erin, Forestry and Environmental Resources                                                             

Sponsor(s): University of Montana, National Science Foundation (NSF)

Amount Awarded: $282,224.00




Fine-scale Resource Selection, Diet, and Reproduction of Urban Black Bears, and a BACI Design to Evaluate the Efficacy of the BearWise Program

With the proposed implementation of the BearWise program, which is designed to educate the public and reduce anthropogenic attractants in neighborhoods, our objectives are: 1) Use a before-after-control-impact (BACI) study design to examine the impacts of implementing BearWise principals (e.g., bear-resistant trash containers, elimination of attractants such as bird feeders, and others) in participating neighborhoods on urban black bear home range size, fine-scale resource selection, diet, and reproduction in treatment (i.e., BearWise) and control neighborhoods. 2) Quantify landscape and fine-scale variables associated with foraging events and assess resource selection (Lewis et al. 2015) at treatment and control neighborhoods. 3) Perform pre and post-stable isotope analysis to assess nutritional status and identify proportional contributions of anthropogenic and natural foods to the diet of urban black bears (Dykstra 2015) captured in in treatment and control neighborhoods. 4) Conduct an evaluation of a pilot BearWise community to quantify public perceptions about bears, bear management, bear-human encounters, and to explore compliance with BearWise practices prior to, in conjunction with, and post-implementation (Johnson 2013) in treatment and control neighborhoods.

PI(s): DePerno Christopher, Fisheries and Wildlife; Peterson Nils, Fisheries and Wildlife

Sponsor: NC Wildlife Resources Commission

Amount Awarded: $667,748.00


Development of a Long-term Acoustic Monitoring Program and Projected Species Distributions Under Future Scenarios in the US Caribbean

This project will create species distribution maps for bird and anuran species that are critically endangered, vulnerable or data deficient and will use future climate scenarios to determine how their distribution may change in the future. The information generated for this project will useful for creating an unprecedented baseline of present day species distributions of 26 species of greatest conservation need. Furthermore, the study will combine the current distributions and bioclimatic niche information with future climate change scenarios to predict how species distributions are expected to change over the next ~80 years. Lastly, this project will the aforementioned products to develop a sampling framework to improve spatial and temporal inferences about species distribution.

PI(s): Collazo Jaime A, Applied Ecology; Pacifici Jamian, Fisheries and Wildlife; Reich Brian J; Terando Adam J, Applied Ecology

Sponsor: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Amount Awarded: $80,000.00


Potential for Integrating Swine Lagoon Sludge into N.C. Bioenergy Sector

Swine lagoon sludge management is critical to the operation of swine facilities. Sludge removal from the lagoon is costly and can result in additional cost associated with transportation and land application. In North Carolina, the limited cropping acreage introduces yet another constraint on sludge management. Swine sludge can be processed to generate a dry biomass feedstock that is easier to transport and apply as nutrient source for bioenergy crops and grasses, or as a feedstock for combustion alone or blended with poultry litter, or lignocellulosic feedstock. Sludge removal and drying represent bottlenecks that impede the development of these utilization alternatives. This project will develop and evaluate the performance of sludge removal and drying systems, and characterize the removed, dried sludge as a soil amendment and as a combustion feedstock.

PI(s): Sharara Mahmoud Ahmed Nabil Ahmed Naguib, Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Rice John M, Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Hopkins Christopher B, Forest Biomaterials; Stuckey Joseph L, Biological and Agricultural Engineering

Sponsor: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Amount Awarded: $144,711.00


Aquatic Biodegradability of Textile Materials: Impact of Dyes and Finishes

It is proposed that we extend the findings of the prior research (17-579) to evaluate several different dyes and finishes for fabrics and determine their impact on the aerobic aquatic biodegradation of the fabric particles. 2)We will also perform degradation experiments under anaerobic conditions for the same samples as listed. 3)Samples of the degraded cotton samples will be collected and provided to NCSU College of Textiles (Nelson Vinueza) in order for Textiles to perform chemical characterization of the dyes, finishes and their degradation products

PI(s): Venditti Richard A, Forest Biomaterials; Pawlak Joel J, Forest Biomaterials                                                 

Sponsor: Cotton, Inc.

Amount Awarded: $33,432.00


RAPID: Informal Learning about Urban Ecology through Community-Engaged Research as a Pathway to Persistence for Disaster-Impacted Students

Focusing on formal schooling and academic commitments following a disaster can prove challenging for any student. Prior research, for instance, has demonstrated high rates of stress amongst students following a range of different types of natural disasters. In particular, after a disaster, research in K-12 settings notes the importance of providing mental health support for students and notes that teachers can play a key role in helping students to process their loss (Le Brocque et al., 2017). Much less research has been done on how engaging in informal learning in disaster-impacted areas can aid student learning, recovery, and persistence following such losses. North Carolina State University (NCSU), along with many schools in North Carolina, has a high number of current students who have been impacted by Hurricane Florence (and Tropical Storm Michael). Many of the disaster-impacted students at NCSU are also low-income or from ethnic minority backgrounds. These students may already be vulnerable to dropping out of college, and experiencing the trauma of a disaster may only propel these students towards leaving school. Research documents the importance of science learning that is highly connected with local communities and broader societal issues for student persistence (Campbell et al., 2014; Jaeger et al., 2013). Further, disadvantaged students value being able to apply their STEM training to solving real world problems affecting their communities, including issues of environmental and social justice (Puritty et al., 2017). Intellectual Merit: The proposed research aims to engage students (N = 20) from North Carolina State University whose home communities have been impacted by Hurricane Florence (and Tropical Storm Michael) in an urban ecology informal learning exploration during the late Fall and Winter of 2018/2019. This project has two aims: To promote science learning, resilience, and persistence amongst students whose home communities have been impacted by the recent storms through an informal learning experience. To collect vital, time-sensitive data on impacts of the hurricane on urban forests in order to inform future urban ecosystem management in Eastern North Carolina and beyond. Broader Impacts: This research will have broader societal impacts in two important ways: 1) it will provide a focused, informal learning experience that will foster learning, resilience, and persistence for a vulnerable population of students, those whose home communities have been devastated by recent hurricanes; and 2) it will directly benefit communities impacted by Hurricane Florence, providing important data to identify best practices for urban forest management to be implemented during the recovery from the hurricane, and to foster long-term resilience in the urban forest social-ecological system. This project will create rich, relevant opportunities to engage in informal science learning for participants, and will provide training in cutting-edge, transdisciplinary approaches to answering many questions at the forefront of environmental biology, climate science, and ecological studies. Recognizing the central role of the NCSU Libraries in supporting both learning outcomes and fostering student success, the project will leverage the Libraries’ infrastructures for acquisition, training, and circulation of technology. Additionally, participants will share the outputs of their research experience with the larger NCSU community through an exhibit of the documentary material that they develop, using NCSU Libraries spaces for high-definition visualization, simulations, ideation, and innovation, which will inspire other students to recognize how science can help to address issues of local concern and relevance. Finally, the data from the informal learning projects will be analyzed and prepared for publication and presentation, in order to reach local and global academic and non-academic audiences as they plan for forest management in an era of frequent and highly destructive hurricanes.

PI(s): Katti Madhusudan Vithal, Forestry and Environmental Resources; Eseryel Deniz, Teacher Education and Learning Sciences; Mulvey Kelly Lynn Sara, Psychology; Orcutt Darby C, NCSU Libraries-Administration

Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Amount Awarded: $199,721.00


EMN-15-S-01 Applications of Nanocellulose in Waterborne Coatings Systems

We will use unmodified and chemically modified nanocellulose materials to develop rheology, dewatering and film formation routes that will lead to films and coatings with target physical appearance, mechanical integrity and thermo-chemical and wetting properties. For this purpose we will use precursors from three different nanocelluloses: cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) and lignocellulose nanofibrils (LCNF). Results from this study will be used to develop novel coatings and films, as well as novel personal care products.

PI(s): Khan Saad, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Spontak Richard, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Rojas Orlando Jose, Forest Biomaterials

Sponsor: Eastman Chemical Company

Amount Awarded: $27,000.00


Populus-based production of solid biofuel

World energy demand has been continuously increasing, with no indication of slowing down in the coming years. There exists an imperative need for cleaner, sustainable, renewable energy sources that can be locally produced. Biomass is identified as a sustainable long-term plan to reduce the dependency on imported energy and as a national security strategy, and wood pellet is identified as an important biomass product with growing demand and an established expert market mainly in Europe. Many bioenergy-focused field studies conducted by NC State University have shown the efficacy of Populus as short rotation woody crops (SRWC) when clones are matched to site conditions. The objectives of this project are to develop a novel preprocessing during pellet production, assess its effects on the technical feasibility of wood pellet production, and evaluate the potential of utilizing Populus clones that are suitable and highly productive in NC for producing the next generation of solid fuels. The expected outcomes include validity of the modified production method to improve the quality of wood pellets and identification of poplar clones for producing high-quality and durable pellets.

PI(s): Saloni Daniel, Forest Biomaterials; Ghezehei Solomon Beyene, Forestry and Environmental Resources; Nichols, Elizabeth, Forestry and Environmental Resources

Sponsor: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Amount Awarded: $133,190.00


The Silviculture of Populus for Veneer

Forestry is the largest manufacturing industry in North Carolina (NC). Yet, opportunities for silviculture of hardwood plantations in western NC, where hardwood sawtimber industries are primarily located, have been missing. From our extensive experience of growing short-rotation woody crops for bioenergy and environmental clean-up in different parts of NC, we understand the importance matching species/clones to site conditions and their establishment and management, know expected production costs and yields under various scenarios, and have observed high growth and survival rates of many Populus clones. We have been identifying poplar clones for their potential for high-value veneer production. Our goal is to study feasibility and development of Populus clones as veneer crops by establishing a Populus-veneer demonstration and research site in western NC Piedmont, develop species, clonal and silvicultural recommendations and enterprise budgets for such plantations, and examine post-coppicing potential of Populus clones for veneer-log production. We will collaborate with Columbia Forest Products to test log quality for veneer processing. A successful launching of Populus for veneer would join in existing markets without the requisite of new mills and offer landowners in the western Piedmont and mountains of NC with smaller stands/fields who tend to “try” new promising crops with an opportunity to produce viable high-value hardwoods.

PI(s): Ghezehei Solomon Beyene, FER Extension; Nichols Elizabeth, Forestry and Environmental Resources

Sponsor: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Amount Awarded: $107,757.00


CAREER: Biochar Systems for Sustainable Applications in the Food-Energy-Water Nexus                                                                                                          

Biochar is a carbon-rich byproduct of thermochemical biomass conversions, and is closely linked to the Food-Energy-Water (FEW) nexus through its potential applications in wastewater treatment, agriculture management, and bioenergy, as well as indirect benefit in mitigating climate change. Although biochar has a potential to transform existing FEW nexus into more efficient and sustainable systems, it has not been widely implemented due to the lack of understandings in technical performance, economic feasibility, environmental impacts, and social implications of different combinations of biomass species, conversion technologies, and biochar applications. Such understanding is very hard to be obtained using traditional Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) or Techno-Economic Analysis (TEA) approaches due to intensive needs of process data and methodological limitations in integrating temporal, spatial, and socioeconomic dimensions. This project aims to address the knowledge gaps and methodological challenges by (1) using machine learning approaches to simulate and predict technical performance and life cycle inventory (LCI) of various combinations of biomass species, conversion technologies, process design, operational conditions, and applications of biochar; (2) building an integrated framework that seamlessly incorporate predictive LCA, TEA, Geographic Information System (GIS), and dynamic modeling to evaluate the environmental, economic, and social implications of biochar systems; (3) demonstrating the framework through real-world case studies in different geographic, temporal, and socioeconomic context.

PI: Yao Yuan, Forest Biomaterials            

Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)                                                                                                       

Amount Awarded: $402,712.00   


Coordination of the SENTINEL Partnership

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and the Interior formalized the NC Sentinel Landscape Partnership (here-after Partnership) to better serve where working and natural lands converge with national defense facilities. Decidedly, the Partnership can leverage collective resources and expertise to accomplish shared on-the-ground goals where priorities overlap. To accelerate progress meeting technical and process goals, and increase the capacity and legacy of the NC Sentinel Landscape Partnership (NC SLP), NC State University is requesting $40,000 to assist in continued coordination of major Partnership goals that will link military readiness, conservation, and working lands. The Partnership is expanding outreach, opportunities, and recognition to landowners in 33 counties, including the addition of a landowner advisory committee; is working to reduce land-use conflicts and natural resource issues around military installations through its High Priority Program; and accelerating the conservation and protection of natural resources and restoration of important habitat for wildlife.

PI(s): Bardon Robert, Forestry and Environmental Resources; Addor Mary L, Forestry and Environmental Resources

Sponsor: NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Amount Awarded:  $40,000.00