Georgia Tech’s Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI) has added two faculty to its strategic leadership team as part of its mission expansion in bioindustrial technology and circular materials. Pamela Peralta-Yahya, associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will be the strategic coordinator for bioindustrial technology, and Kyriaki Kalaitzidou, professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, will be the strategic coordinator for circular materials.
Peralta-Yahya and Kalaitzidou will join existing leaders Matthew Realff, the strategic coordinator for biorefinery systems and professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, along with Chris Luettgen, associate director in RBI and faculty member in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, who will continue to coordinate paper, packaging and tissue products.
These changes reflect RBI’s expansion in biochemistry-enabled technology relevant to biorefining and development of new renewable materials. The prior focus area of nanocellulose and nanocomposites has broadened into the emerging area of circular materials.
The objective in circular materials is to move away from linear cradle-to-landfill models and retain atoms, particularly carbon, in the use-production cycle longer while minimizing waste to a landfill or the atmosphere (as CO2). Nanocellulose, an area of RBI strength, is an important additive in achieving circularity. Georgia Tech faculty can play a broader role in developing technology that converts biomass to useful products like plastics. This will enable Georgia Tech faculty teams to better compete for federal funding from agencies like the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) that are beginning to focus on such goals.
Additionally bioprocessing can play an important role in converting CO2 into useful chemicals (effectively sequestering it from the atmosphere) or converting plastic products into high-value chemicals (upcycling). RBI has an established strength in biorefinery process systems, the reactions and separations in biorefinery operations, through Matthew Realff’s leadership.
“Peralta-Yahya was asked to join the RBI team to fill a gap in the biochemistry and chemical biology aspects, which include the term bioindustrial technology,” said Carson Meredith, executive director of the Renewable Bioproducts Institute. “These two new focus areas at RBI are strongly coupled with our traditional focus on pulp and paper technology.”
For example, pulp mills are biorefineries that produce a biofuel (lignin), pulp and other chemicals. Pulp is converted into paper, packaging and tissue products that are the single most highly recycled product in solid waste streams.
“We believe that a paper science and technology program is the ideal place to build a research platform for sustainable circular materials and bioindustrial technology,” said Meredith.