U of Toledo establishes sustainable materials institute

By Lisa Gibson
Posted March 25, 2010, at 8:30 a.m. CST

The newly approved Institute for Sustainable Engineering Materials at the University of Toledo, Ohio, will bring together research teams to solve materials development-related problems, such as minimizing and recycling waste, within a variety of industries.

The institute was formed in response to a growing corporate interest in environmentally-friendly products and the development of sustainable ways to manufacture goods. It will function as a separate office within the school's College of Engineering and will bolster the school's standing as a center for green technology and innovation. "We want to be a problem solver for industries," said Nagi Naganathan, dean of the College of Engineering. "We want them to know we are the product solution site. We have a proven track record to respond to industry problems and we will be agile in terms of our response." He added that it will be an application-driven program wherein the client will come to the researchers with a problem. "We will reconstitute ourselves in terms of expertise to respond to that particular problem," he explained.

University researchers contributing to the institute have done work for 40 outside companies including Shell, DuPont, BP and Dow Chemical Co. "We already have some proven outcomes we can share with industries in terms of why this institute will be beneficial to them," Naganathan said. Work at the organization will extend to sectors including engineering materials, biochemical and thermochemical processing of renewable feedstocks into biofuels and value-added chemicals, and green chemistry and engineering, according to Maria Coleman, professor of chemical engineering and co-director of the institute.

The center is studying the conversion of numerous biomass sources, including secondary and tertiary wastes, energy crops and algae, into products and fuel through fermentation or gasification, according to Glenn Lipscomb, professor of chemical engineering and chairman of the College of Engineering. The research groups will also address options for recycling of plastic material, which has been a focus of the University's Polymer Institute, according to Saleh Jabarin, professor of chemical engineering, co-director of the Institute for Sustainable Engineering Materials and director of the Polymer Institute. "This [Institute for Sustainable Engineering Materials] will create integration among all the things we undertake here at this college," Naganathan said.