ATLANTA — Georgia Tech’s Renewable Bioproducts Institute set another record this year at its annual executive conference, April 5-6, with registration hitting more than 150, including Tech students and faculty, researchers from a variety of other academic institutions, national laboratory representatives, government agencies, associations and private enterprise.
Student poster session
The three-track conference offered faculty and student presentations in Operational Excellence in Pulping, Paper and Packaging; The Future of Biocomposites and Nanocellulose; and New Opportunities in Biochemicals. In addition to the keynote, the conference included 26 faculty and student speakers and 12 from outside Georgia Tech. More than 40 graduate student researchers supported by the RBI endowment exhibited their work during the conference poster session, now expanded into two sessions due to demand.
The attendance underscores the need recognized by all sectors to share critical needs and learn how Georgia Tech’s innovation ecosystem can address those needs, particularly in the areas of bioproducts and bioprocessing.
“By bringing such a diverse group together for discussion and networking, we are able to expand our collaboration and help one another address the complexities that face both our laboratories and our industries today,” said Norman Marsolan, RBI’s executive director. “We welcomed many RBI members back this year, as well as some new faces, and watched the networking sparks ignite. We are eager to take advantage of these connections to further collaborate and create new opportunities.”
Kicking off day two’s discussion, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president of research, Steve Cross, cited a dozen companies with an established presence on campus, and urged pulp and paper companies to join them.
“We call it the ‘bump factor,’” he said. “When companies run into each other at Tech Square, opportunities happen.” Cross also laid out a compelling list of advantages companies have when collaborating with Tech, including recruitment of the country’s top students, access to cutting edge research and development, workforce development, even non-traditional areas such as tapping into a startup or establishing an innovation center.”
Cross also reiterated the history of innovation and industry collaboration at RBI itself and its predecessors, which date back to 1929, a “legacy never to be lost,” he said.
Naresh Thadhani, Don McConnell, Norman Marsolan,
The day’s final session highlighted the ins-and-outs of working with Georgia Tech during an interactive panel discussion.
Marsolan laid out RBI’s value to companies, including but not limited to the endowment. He cited an environment to now only partner on research, but take advantage of testing services, develop protocol, sit in on graduate committees and participate in consortiums.
Naresh Thadhani, professor and chair of the school of Materials Science and Engineering, along with Sankar Nair, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, who also serves as associate chair of industry outreach, both emphasized the need to continue finding new ways to improve processes in traditional fields within the forest industry.
“There are sustainability issues, we all know,” Thadhani said. “We live in a materials world … we make them, we use them. Here’s what we also know – forests provide natural factories where we can make multi-functional materials. We must continue to work with companies, work with you, promoting outside-the-box thinking and engaging one another through this pipeline.”
Don McConnell, vice president in Georgia Tech’s Office of Industry Collaboration, agreed, saying there has been an increase in companies engaging in that pipeline, such as locating certain positions and/or departments on or adjacent to campus.
“Tech Square is a neighborhood of companies, just like you, from Southern Company to Home Depot, along with visiting scientists and engineers,” he said. “While to some the process of working with a university may seem overwhelming, wondering where they should even begin. We’re here to bring all the pieces together.
“The most important thing I can tell you today is this — anything is possible. The hardest part is deciding what is the most fruitful proposition for you and your company.”