The Wood-Based Composites Center in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $675,000 to create and support an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC).

An I/UCRC cultivates high-quality, industrially relevant fundamental research, strong industrial support of and collaboration in research and education, and direct transfer of university-developed ideas, research, and technology to U.S. industry to improve its global competitive posture.

Since its founding at Virginia Tech’s Department of Wood Science and Forest Products in 1999, the Wood-Based Composites Center has functioned as an industry-funded research consortium that has included Oregon State University, the University of Maine, and the University of British Columbia. Virginia Tech and Oregon State University will serve as the official NSF I/UCRC sites, while all four partner universities will continue to provide wood materials research and education opportunities for the center’s students.

The NSF grant will leverage industry funds for a greater research impact while attracting additional funding from industry as well as from federal and state government.

The Wood-Based Composites Center was hit hard by the economic recession, losing 11 of its 17 industry members after enjoying record funding in 2008. The remaining six industry members — Weyerhaeuser Company, Hexion Specialty Chemicals, Henkel Corporation, Georgia-Pacific Chemicals, Ashland, and Arclin — initiated a six-month strategic planning process in 2009 to reinvent the center for sustainable operation.

Center Director Chip Frazier of Blacksburg, Va., the Thomas M. Brooks Professor of Wood Science and Forest Products, and Managing Director Linda Caudill, also of Blacksburg, implemented the industry members’ plans, which included pursuing the NSF grant to create an I/UCRC. This award, combined with rejuvenated industrial support, including new members JELD-WEN and Willamette Valley Company, breaks the former record for the center’s funding.

“We are excited and gratified; this award benefits our students and it expands our service to the industry. Our industry members’ contributions will be leveraged for a much greater impact,” stated Frazier. The center is already achieving this through seed funds provided by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

“The center’s industry members seek efficient ways to accomplish the fundamental research that supports their business needs,” Caudill added. “The Wood-Based Composites Center can help them achieve that goal while giving them a first look at potential future employees. The collaborative nature of this NSF program is a win-win for all.”

Center Co-Director Fred Kamke, the JELD-WEN Chair of Wood-Based Composites Science at Oregon State University, completes the leadership team of the new center along with Frazier and Caudill.

In accepting this award, the center’s industry and university members agree to adhere to an NSF I/UCRC model of close industry/university collaboration in which students receive advanced, interdisciplinary training in the context of current industrial challenges and opportunities.

The center’s mission is to advance the science and technology of wood-based composite materials, thereby promoting sustainable, environmentally friendly strategies for carbon sequestration and reduced energy consumption. The industry members set the research agenda to focus on fundamental topics such as long-term durability, emissions characterization, green building, adhesion, non-petrochemical feedstocks, and the molecular structure and organization of wood and other forms of biomass.

The Wood-Based Composites Center, which will now be known as the Wood-Based Composites Center I/UCRC, will continue to supply students with scholarship, research, and networking opportunities through industrial and academic partnerships. It will continue offering short courses on topics such as wood adhesion, analytical methods, and wood material science, which have previously trained over 700 industry professionals. The NSF I/UCRC grant will enable the center to increase these numbers and extend its influence to students across North America.

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