Scientists and researchers are at the forefront of solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. Innovative solutions are being tested and developed in labs. And some of these innovations will get used in the real world, in places like the forest products industry.
The Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award highlights these innovations and the brilliant young minds behind them.
Two graduate students from the U.S. advanced through this competition and received international recognition for their work.
Chinmay Satam was a graduate research assistant at the Georgia Institute of Technology when he was named a global winner of the 2018-2019 Blue Sky Young Researchers and Innovation Award.
Udita Ringania was a global winner of the 2020-2021 Blue Sky Award. She is a PhD candidate at the Bhamla Lab, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Satam’s research aimed to remove petroleum-derived plastics from food packaging using a combination of forest products and food waste.
“In my research, I used crab shells (food waste) and cellulose (a product from trees) to replace plastics used in food packaging,” Satam said. “I made a material as good as the one they commonly use in packaging, but which is currently derived from petroleum.”
Ringania’s research looks for ways to reduce energy in the paper manufacturing process. She is developing a process that removes water from very tiny particles that make up paper using sound instead of heat. This process saves time and energy, which also reduces costs.
“While brainstorming ideas with my advisor during my initial months at Georgia Tech, we stumbled upon this seemingly simple but a high-impact problem of dewatering/drying of cellulose nanomaterials. I was not even aware of these materials at that point,” Ringania said. “I was blown away by the unique combination of properties they demonstrated along with their potential application in almost any field. A cherry on top was their biodegradable and renewable nature.”
Satam said the forest products industry is, “the original sustainable industry.”
AF&PA was one of the first manufacturing industries in the U.S. to establish quantifiable sustainability goals. In 2011, we launched Better Practices, Better Planet 2020. Our members surpassed most of those goals and last year, we continued our commitment to sustainability with Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future.
“The forest products industry has a lot to teach other industries on how to maintain a sustainable supply chain. I see a clear shift in traditional industries to replace petroleum-based feedstocks with those derived from natural resources,” Satam said. “The forest products industry is a leader in this, because of the nature of the industry and the vast amounts of R&D that have already been done towards the same.”
AF&PA’s sustainability goals recognizes the three essential pillars of sustainability — economic, environmental and social. These interdependent factors work together to support long-term viability, growth and improvement.
“Sustainability to me means taking steps in the direction where life on earth can be sustained without harming it. This can only be achieved by a combination of technological and social intent,” Ringania said.
“I feel that sustainability can only be achieved by keeping track of the big picture. It’s not just technical, but also economic, legal and geopolitical factors that affect sustainability goals. Also, [it] takes into account the end user. A viable sustainable product should also be marketable,” Satam said.
As winners of the international Blue Sky Award, Satam and Ringania had the opportunity to showcase their research to global forest products industry leaders.
“The Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award is a great avenue to showcase our work in front of the current stalwarts of the forest bioproduct industry. This not only gives visibility to our work, but it also helps us understand the potential impact that out work can have,” Ringania said.
Career opportunities in the forest products industry are vast. And companies are constantly looking for innovators who can advance the industry.
Satam said the knowledge gained from researching forest products extends beyond the industry.
“Doing research in the forest products industry has given me expertise in multiple fields,” Satam said. “Know that as a professional in the industry, your work will have an impact on our everyday lives and that impact grows every day!”
Applications for the 2022-2023 Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award are open from April 28 through July 1, 2022. The program is open to researchers 30 and younger. A full list of qualifications, award details and online application form can be found at afandpa.org/BlueSky