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Sustainable Biomaterials Science

What is Sustainable Biomaterials Science?


Chiral nematic texture of a cellulose nanocrystal film under a polarized-light microscope Chiral nematic texture of a cellulose nanocrystal film under a polarized-light microscope

  • If you want to make a difference in the world by reducing society’s environmental impact, then dedicate your career to sustainable materials and energy from renewable natural resources and join us in Sustainable Biomaterials Science! Learn about current and emerging industrial processes for converting biomass into materials, chemicals, and fuels that will be the foundation of our future bioeconomy.
  • Sustainable Biomaterials Science is about converting plants and other biomaterials, such as lobster shells, algae, and microbial secretions, into useful products, like wood composites for homes and furniture, cardboard and other packaging materials, food additives, medical devices, and energy. You will study at the junction of plant science, chemistry, and materials science, learning to tease out the structure and composition of a variety of plant-based renewable resources. Converting renewable resources (like trees and grasses) into chemicals, energy, and other products is technical; you will prepare to interface with chemists, engineers, and other scientists. The scientific rigor of the track, coupled with its opportunities for hands-on scientific training, position you to help lead the transition of our economy from fossil fuels to renewable resources.

Where is it used?


Flexible display. (This pic  is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 Generic license.) Flexible display. (This pic is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 Generic license.)

Key materials for society that are derived from renewable resources include paper, cotton fabrics, and wood-based composite products. Materials at the forefront of sustainable biomaterials, such as nanocellulose, have great promise to enable technologies that transcend current technical boundaries, like eco-friendly printed electronics and flexible displays (see image).

The finite nature of fossil fuels requires that we find alternative ways to produce chemicals and fuels that are currently derived from petroleum. Moreover, new materials are needed to replace non-sustainable materials, such as polystyrene, that are filling up our landfills. The Sustainable Biomaterials Science track prepares students to contribute in important ways to advancing sustainable material technologies and developing new materials and conversion processes.

Hands-on experience


Jennifer Carter Jennifer Carter conducting undergraduate research on drug delivery in professor Kevin Edgar's lab.

Courses in the Sustainable Biomaterials Science track give you a strong scientific foundation to understand the chemical and physical properties of plant-based and other renewable resources and natural and industrial processes for their biosynthesis, biodegradation, and industrial conversion into materials, chemicals, and energy.

Here you will learn by doing, and experiencing; from visiting a business, like a paper mill, testing your hypotheses in laboratory or field research (either in the summer or during the semester), and participating in field studies and laboratory courses. Moreover, the department maintains close connections to companies that offer paid summer internships, providing great opportunities to apply what you have learned in a professional setting.

After You Graduate

The Sustainable Biomaterials Science track option enables you to understand technical, scientific, and environmental aspects of biobased materials, and how we can make and process them. It prepares you for careers in which you draw upon this understanding to solve product quality or manufacturing issues, provide solutions to customers, show customers the technical benefits of biobased products, or support the development of new materials and processes. The track also provides a solid foundation for graduate studies, opening up higher-level career opportunities. Examples of occupational titles for entry-level positions are
• Technical Service Representative
• Technical Sales Representative
• Chemical Technician
• Quality Control Analyst
• Product Specialist
• Research Associate
• R&D Chemist

    Jeff D.
Jeff Dolan  (B.S. and  M.S.)

R&D Engineer
Axiall Corporation

“What are Sustainable Biomaterials? We are using everything that is renewable … from the land to the sea. From the sea we have algae and kelp that we can turn into polymeric materials for drug delivery systems. …On land and we have grasses, bamboo, and wood and we can turn those into bioenergy and biomaterials and bioplastics. … What this department is doing is looking towards the future. Virginia Tech is a great school, the department is even better — its individual attention, small class sizes, great teachers that do whatever they can to meet whatever requirements and needs you have. A really compassionate group of people. They love what they do and they express that in their teachings. … They make you want to learn.”


    Daniel Roelth
Daniel Roethle (B.S. and M.S.)

“I am a chemist in the Upstream Research group at Bostik. In this group, I have the opportunity to investigate the next generation of adhesives, helping to shape the future of how our homes, cars, and consumer products are bonded together. One of my special projects is to identify sustainable bonding solutions. Just a few of the qualities I target are the renewable content, biodegradability, and recyclability of our raw materials and final products. As the demand for sustainable products continues to grow, it is my job to ensure that Bostik has the technology to match.”

Carter Fox (Ph.D)
    Carter Fox
“I am currently working for Weyerhaeuser at the Weyerhaeuser Technology Center in Federal Way, WA. My primary research project is on the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) biofuels project, which is being funded by the USDA. The overall objective of the project is to develop a pathway to manufacture jet fuel from wood biomass. My specific role is working on a team to take the lignin produced as a byproduct of the jet fuel manufacturing process, characterize it, and create useful, value- added products from it to improve the economic viability of the entire project.”

Sustainable Biomaterials Science


Introductory Courses

Find out what courses to take if you are interested in Sustainable Biomaterials Science.


Faculty Advisor and Student Ambassadors 

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Job Opportunities


Course Recommendations:

To help you explore your interest in any of the degrees, we recommend trying some of our introductory courses:

Packaging Science

Sustainable Biomaterials


Workshops and Short Courses

    SBIO Student Organizations

SBIO Student Organizations

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Students life

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