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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.  

Because of its commitment to providing hands-on learning opportunities, the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials received a University Exemplary Department Award in 2017.

Why study sustainable biomaterials at Virginia Tech?

  • The Department of Sustainable Biomaterials is one of leading programs in renewable resources in the U.S.
  • Because students have four tracks to choose from, they can tailor the program to fit their needs in terms of career goals as well as personal areas of interest.
  • 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.
  • The department is home to the Wood Enterprise Institute, a production enterprise owned and managed by students that develops, produces, and markets a wood-based product each year. Watch a video about the production of the 2019 product: dog bowl holders.
  • Students also have two minor options: packaging science and wood science. You might also be interested in one of the Pathways minors such as ecological cities, pathways to sustainability, or innovation. The addition of a minor will give you in-depth expertise in one of these fields so you can pursue a passion and stand out in the job market.
  • There are three departmental sponsored research centers that offer educational and research opportunities for students and faculty: Center for Forests Products Business, Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design, and Wood-Based Composites Center.
  • Student clubs and organizations such as the Society of Renewable Resources provide an opportunity to connect with others with similar interests 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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