Climate change issues are prompting us to re-evaluate the materials we use and the energy choices we make. In the MEL in Green Bio-Products program, we are looking at the opportunities that exist in natural renewable materials and exploring how we can convert these materials into products, including energy.
Our students take interdisciplinary technical courses to deepen their understanding of the materials found in nature and examine how to use them to their fullest potential. When they graduate, they will have applied this knowledge in lab settings, pursued directed study opportunities and expanded their skill set with the business, leadership and entrepreneurship courses that are part of the Master of Engineering Leadership program.
This combination of hard and soft skills gives our students the training and background industry needs to develop new innovative products from sustainable inputs. Many forest product companies, for example, are repositioning themselves for a future bio-based economy, and they already have the infrastructure in place to create materials other than lumber or pulp and paper. Cutting edge research at UBC is investigating the transformation of lignin, isolated from industrial pulping processes, into forest materials for new markets. In my research I am exploring how to transform this lignin into carbon fibre, a product in high demand for creating products that are lighter and stronger than their traditional counterparts.
This research project, like the Green Bio-Products program in general, is very interdisciplinary, drawing on the fields of applied chemistry, material science and mechanical engineering. I do believe that the interdisciplinary nature of the Green Bio-Products program — which brings together the faculties of applied science, forestry and business — is the way of the future if we want to address some of the major challenges facing the world.
Dr. Scott Renneckar is an associate professor in the Department of Wood Science in the Faculty of Forestry. He is a tier II Canada Research Chair in Advanced Renewable Materials, and he is studying how to transform modern carbon, found in trees, into high-value, advanced, renewable materials. These materials are created from the bottom-up by carefully manipulating molecular structures that are one billionth of a metre in size. Dr. Renneckar uses analytical chemistry methods to evaluate size and functionality of isolated and modified biopolymers and nanoparticles, such as lignin and nanocellulose.