Auburn University chemical engineering professor earns grant for sustainable research project

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – An associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Auburn University has earned one of the first grants to support sustainability research from the newly created Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Jin Wang, the B. Redd Associate Professor in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, earned a $50,000 award to support her research aimed at reducing energy and chemical consumption at pulp mills.

“We are glad that the Ray C. Anderson Foundation sees the value in funding our ability to seek real world, intelligent solutions for manufacturing that have the potential to greatly decrease energy consumption,” said Wang. “We expect that our research will result in a minimum of 10 percent total energy reduction in pulp and paper processes. When that is applied to scale in the size of pulp and paper industry, the impact is huge.”

With 17 mills in Alabama, the pulp and paper industry is one of the top manufacturing employers in the state.

The foundation also awarded grants to innovative sustainability-related programs at Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Southern Mississippi and Arizona State University.

The foundation was launched in July 2012 as a legacy to Anderson, the late founder and chairman of Interface Inc., a manufacturer of environmentally responsible modular carpet for the commercial, institutional and residential markets. Anderson was globally recognized as a “pioneer for the environment.”

“Ray Anderson is a sustainability icon,” said June Henton, dean of Auburn’s College of Human Sciences, who serves on the board of directors for Interface. “We were privileged to honor him in 2007 as the International Quality of Life Award Laureate. Having known him for more than 15 years, it pleases me beyond measure to see his legacy continue through his foundation which now supports sustainability research at Auburn University.”

The not-for-profit organization bearing Anderson’s name seeks to promote a sustainable society by supporting and funding educational and project-based initiatives that advance knowledge and innovation in sustainable production and consumption. Anderson’s daughters, Mary Anne Lanier and Harriet Langford, who serve as trustees of the foundation, issued the initial request for grant proposals in September 2012.

“The best way to honor our father in our first funding cycle was to identify a few great projects that have the potential to infuse educational research findings directly into sustainable and innovative manufacturing processes,” said Lanier.

“There are so many facets of sustainability, and they’re all important,” added Langford. “Manufacturing, improved process engineering and viable pathways to improved economic sustainability were really our father’s ‘sweet spot.’  He was a learner, an engineer, a teacher and a doer.”

Wang came to Auburn in 2006 after earning a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

(Written by Amy Weaver)

Contact: Jin Wang, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, (334) 844-2020 (jzw0001@auburn.edu), or Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)