Talking Sustainability with Young Innovators
The 2022-2023 U.S. Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award winners share their thoughts on sustainability, STEM careers and exciting innovations in our industry.
The forest products industry offers exciting careers for young innovators pursuing a future in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
We took a moment to talk with the 2022-2023 U.S. Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award winners about:
- What sustainability means to them.
- Why STEM careers are important.
- What forest product industry innovations they’re excited about.
What led you to work or do research in the forest products industry?
“After college, I knew I wanted to work in an environment that encouraged creativity in the technical field that would have a practical and beneficial impact to my community. My current role meets both! I have the chance to explore new ideas and create products that are not only sustainable but are a necessity for people every day.” – Sneha Seetharama, Process Engineer, International Paper
What do you do? What’s a normal day like?
“I work in Research and Development in the manufacturing group. I develop innovative technologies that will reduce costs of the manufacturing process, improve product quality, and can also lead to new product development in our mills. My work is collaborative with research consortiums, universities, and manufacturing resources.” - Lindsey Clifton, Senior Research and Development Engineer, Domtar
How did you learn about the Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award?
Two graduate students from our institute, Chinmay Satam and Udita Ringania, received Blue Sky Innovation Awards for their work before. I believe my innovation can open up new opportunities to improve the sustainability of the forest products industry.” - Qiang Fu, PhD Student (Graduate Assistant) in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, Paper Science and Engineering Fellow, Renewable Bioproducts Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology
What does sustainability mean to you?
“Sustainability is not a destination, but a journey. We need to take a long-term perspective and continuously strive to improve the manufacturing process and find innovative solutions to the challenges we face.” – Qiang Fu
“Sustainability for the forest products industry should be viewed as more than just an environmental impact. It’s also in other areas that would impact our life-span as an industry. Social sustainability, human rights, community engagement and many more are some of the efforts my company is taking to ensure we’re sustainable.” – Lindsey Clifton
How is the forest products industry sustainable?
“The forest products industry is sustainable, specifically within the pulp and paper industry. Its raw materials are renewable, its manufacturing process has become more efficient, and the products are some of the most widely recycled materials in the United States.
Within my company, in recent years, nearly 90% of the water used to manufacture pulp and paper comes from local sources. We return almost 90% of the treated water back to its source. 75% of the energy used comes from renewable, carbon-neutral biomass sources and is largely generated from wood processing and pulping byproducts.” – Lindsey Clifton
How is the forest products industry contributing to a sustainable future overall?
“A big reason is that the industry supports the growth and maintenance of healthy forests. Trees are also a renewable resource, which means that well-maintained forests can be harvested for a long time with little impact to the environment.” -- Sneha Seetharama
How is your research advancing the sustainability of the industry?
“My research will unlock new possibilities for the forest products industry. Black liquor is a waste product that’s produced during the process of making paper from wood. It is also rich in natural chemicals and can be used to make other products. My research is to develop an economic and sustainable technology to make valuable and useful products, like jet fuel, or high-value lubricant and wax from black liquor.” – Qiang Fu
“My research is focused on fibrillated fibers and its use in replacing fossil-based materials such as composites, films and packaging materials. This will help reduce waste in landfills and water sources. We are able to modify wood fibers, such as the fibers used in paper, and adhere them to the surface of a product to prevent moisture or grease from leaking through. This could replace alternative materials along with several other products that are single use.” – Lindsey Clifton
“I work with a cellulose-based fiber called Helix® Filtration. Wood is processed to create a very curly material that has unique fiber properties to trap dust without clogging the filter too quickly. Though current work has focused on automotive air filters, the fiber has potential for many more applications in and outside of air filtration. It will be exciting to see how filter media manufacturers can utilize Helix® Filtration fiber to meet their customer needs and sustainability goals.” - Sneha Seetharama
Why should students who are interested in science consider a career in the forest products industry?
“Students who choose to work in this industry can find they are helping to create products that people need and use every day. It can be personally motivating to know that people depend on your work and even find comfort and better quality of life in the products you create.” - Sneha Seetharama
“This industry has been around for decades and even centuries all because of how sustainable this industry is and will continue to be. There are many science-related fields you could enter in engineering, chemistry, biology, management and many more.” – Lindsey Clifton
“The products made in this industry are everywhere in our daily life and sustainability is a complex and multi-faceted topic. Novel technologies, creative ideas and more efforts are required to make manufacturing processes and products more sustainable, which can benefit future generations and every living creature on earth.” – Qiang Fu
Read inspirational stories from more industry innovators:
Blue Sky Award Recognizes Innovative Science and Research
Chinmay Satam and Udita Ringania, past winners of the Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award share their research and perspective on the sustainability of the forest products industry.
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