Spring Workshop Explores Innovations in the Packaging Industry and the Circular Economy
On Thursday, May 11, the Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI) of Georgia Tech hosted a workshop on “Packaging Innovation and the Circular Economy” at the Bill Moore Student Success Center on the Georgia Tech campus. More than 90 attendees from academia, national labs, and industry convened and discussed the cutting-edge research and industry developments happening across the world and got an opportunity to network with leading researchers and peers. This unique workshop featured speakers from the USDA Forest Products Laboratory, WestRock, Stora Enso, Georgia Tech, University of Maine, and many others.
The workshop started off with an introduction by Carson Meredith, executive director of RBI, who gave a perspective on the institute’s goals in promoting bioeconomy technology and innovation. Dr. Meredith emphasized RBI’s role in “catalyzing a community of researchers who focus on solving challenges in packaging by investing in team building across interdisciplinary boundaries.”
Research talks began with a presentation from Tequila Harris, professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. Harris shared her team’s research on a continuous coating process of cellulose- and chitin-derived materials to create enhanced packaging barrier films. Meisha Shofner, associate professor and Faculty Fellow in the School of Material Science and Engineering shared her work on mechanical and thermal properties of single use packaging materials and paths to improving circularity.
Carson Meredith, professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and executive director of RBI informed on renewable barriers from carbohydrates as viable alternatives to plastics and the research methods involved to get more promising results for circular functional barrier packaging materials. Joe Bozeman, assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech presented the Systemic Equity framework as it relates to circularity.
Mehdi Tajvidi, professor from the University of Maine, discussed his team’s research to produce particle board and other packaging materials using nanocellulose and the audience got an opportunity to look and get a feel for his research team’s samples.
Discussions from industry experts included material innovations to replace plastics, packaging requirements in the European Union and the United States and how brands drive innovation more than regulations, methods to optimize package size and packing speed for sustainability, paper-based packaging equipment and systems to replace plastics including plastic water bottles, dye choices and the influence of defect detection in waterborne barrier coated papers, and innovations in fiber-based cold chain packaging.
Ken Zwick from the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory discussed managing forests using methods like forest thinning such that the biomass prevents wildfires and what success looks like for his team – less plastic in packaging and less burning of wood. Their Madison building also houses the largest wood library in Wisconsin.
Participants had a chance to interact with Georgia Tech students and get to know their research at the student poster presentation. The dinner keynote was presented by researchers Bo Arduengo and Stefan France from the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech. The keynote provided an overview of RBI’s newly created ReWOOD research center. Abbreviated from “Renewables-based Economy from WOOD,” research at the center focuses on using sustainable plant-based raw materials to develop industrial products ranging from jet fuel to solvents to generic pharmaceutical additives and more. The presentation provided a glimpse on the expansion of ReWOOD since its launch through research affiliations from universities across the world. ReWOOD’s partnership list continues to grow as the center focuses on targeted research areas and funding proposals to develop technology and commercial opportunities.
“The workshop turned out to be a huge success with a highly engaged audience of faculty, students, national lab, and industry experts,“ said Carson Meredith, executive director of the Renewable Bioproducts Institute. “RBI will continue to host such events as we are committed to providing thought leadership and be a catalyst of cutting-edge research in the areas of circular materials; bioindustrial manufacturing; and paper, packaging, and tissue.”