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Sustainable biomaterials

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What is sustainable biomaterials?

Students pursing a major in sustainable biomaterials are working to build a “greener” future through the innovative use of natural resources to make the cutting-edge products our society needs. This major focuses on the development of products made from renewable natural materials; you’ll learn about the use of these materials in the consumer products, green construction, and biofuel industries. In addition, you’ll also acquire the skills and knowledge needed to produce and market these materials.

Learn more about this major and the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials.  

What will I learn in this major?

Students majoring in sustainable biomaterials take common core courses in the following areas: wood, design, and craftsmanship; structure and properties of sustainable biomaterials; forest products marketing; biodeterioration, bioconversion, and bioenergy; and entrepreneurial wood design and innovation.

Students will also take courses based on their specific track in the following areas:

  • Creating sustainable society — Environmental law, green building systems, sustainable biomaterials enterprises, and green engineering.
  • Forest products business — Accounting, forest products marketing, forest products business systems, sustainable biomaterials enterprises, and management theory.
  • Sustainable biomaterials science — Chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, physics, wood mechanics, sustainable biomaterials and bioenergy, and sustainable biomaterials composites.
  • Sustainable residential structures — House planning, chemistry, physics, wood mechanics, green building systems, and wood structures design.  

Students can choose from four tracks that will support their career goals and personal interests: creating sustainable society, forest products business, sustainable biomaterials sciences, and sustainable residential structures.

Why study sustainable biomaterials at Virginia Tech?

  • The Department of Sustainable Biomaterials is one of leading programs in renewable resources in the U.S. You can watch a video about the department here.
  • Students have the opportunity to pursue what they are passionate about through undergraduate research projects, like Dylan Willard, whose love of skateboarding led him to look into the possibility of recycling skateboard decks.
  • Internships are highly recommended and are a great way to obtain experience and try out careers. Erin Lash interned with Duffield Associates, a regional engineering and environmental consulting firm, where she participated in fieldwork like monitoring well testing and taking tidal measurements, and contributed to an environmental assessment report for a river dredging project.
  • You’ll learn from faculty like Young-Teck Kim, who is an expert on the bioplastic and biopolymer industry, and Audrey Zink-Sharp, who specializes in wood cell architecture.
  • Faculty members are pursuing a wide range of research interests, including cross-laminated timber markets, wood-based composites, the use of wood materials for residential and commercial applications, and new drug delivery systems.
  • There are opportunities to serve and educate others in the local and global communities. Daniel Grizzard was part of a research project involving maple syrup production in Virginia’s Allegany Highlands and also participated in Service Without Borders, assisting with a relief effort in Nepal.
  • The department is home to the Wood Enterprise Institute, a production enterprise owned and managed by students that develops, produces, markets, and ships a wood-based product each year. Past products have included beer flight holders, conference tables, and wine racks; you can watch a video about the production of the 2019 product: dog bowl holders.
  • You might be interested in one of the integrated Pathways minors such as data and decisions, ecological cities, materials in society, pathways to sustainability, or peace studies and social justice. The addition of a minor will give you additional expertise, allow you to pursue a passion, and help you stand out in the job market.
  • Student organizations such as the Society of Renewable Resources and the Packaging Systems and Design Club provide opportunities to make connections and get involved on campus and in the community.

What can I do with a degree in sustainable biomaterials?

Graduates in sustainable biomaterials may enter the job market or pursue a graduate degree in the field. Career possibilities are listed below, and potential employers include forest products companies, engineering firms, textile companies, biofuels companies, and chemical manufacturers.

  • Adhesive development chemist — Helps improve the performance of adhesives and the products made from them.
  • Biochemist — Studies cellular and molecular processes and the effects of drugs, food, and toxins on these processes.
  • Biofuels researcher — Studies the production and usage of fuels that are derived from plant and animal sources.
  • Building designer — Provides assistance with the design of innovative wood structures, advises engineers and architects on the proper use of forest products in construction, and works with preservationists of historic buildings to help preserve the ancient wood materials for future generations.
  • Field advisor — Provides technical assistance and direction to the field activities of programs supporting the sustainable use, management, and development of nontimber forest products; promotes networking between relevant stakeholders, trainers, users, and extension agents; and designs and implements monitoring and evaluation systems.
  • International forest products specialist — Coordinates efforts to increase exports to other countries, including leading overseas trade missions and informing producers of export market opportunities.
  • International consultant — Works in other countries to locate markets and develop management plans for nontimber forest products.
  • Inventory control manager — Develops, utilizes, and manages information technologies to improve the control and tracking of inventory.
  • Marketing/sales manager — Plans and manages the marketing efforts of a forest products company or association.
  • Process automation engineer — Designs and specifies sensors, computer control systems, and equipment to automate the processing and handling of wood products.
  • Process supervisor — Manages a labor team and implements new technologies into the manufacturing process.
  • Process technician — Helps improve the performance of composite products through quality assurance testing and a continuous process improvement program.
  • Production manager — Supervises employees, troubleshoots manufacturing problems, and seeks to improve production efficiency in manufacturing wood products such as furniture, cabinets, or paper.
  • Quality control/process control engineer — Designs and manages systems to reduce product variability and increase product quality.
  • Research coordinator — Supports the development of nontimber forest products through a broad range of research activities; provides networking support and technical information to groups working with nontimber forest products; and works to develop participatory plans.
  • Research scientist/materials specialist — Studies the strength of new wood products and develops new methods to design buildings and components; represents employer at building code meetings for approval of new products; diagnoses problems with field performance; and works on product development and testing.
  • Sales representative — Represents a company in the promotion and sale of its products to customers.
  • Supply chain manager — Develops and utilizes web-based information technologies to rapidly respond to changes in suppliers and customers in an increasingly global and competitive marketplace.   
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